Medical tourism encompasses the terms medical travel, global healthcare, and health tourism, and describes the practice of people traveling to receive medical treatment, whether necessary or elective. Alternatively, it also refers to the travel of health care providers to deliver healthcare to people in other countries. Medical tourism is becoming an increasingly popular practice among those who wish to have options when it comes to their healthcare. The services offered in a medical tourism setting are almost limitless and could include heart surgery, join replacement surgery, cosmetic surgery, dental surgery, and even in vitro fertilization. Furthermore, medical tourism can involve alternative treatments, psychiatry, and convalescent care. Those concerned about the quality of care in regard to medical tourism can look to the U.S.-based Joint Commission International, among other companies, which inspects and accredits healthcare facilities outside of U.S. Borders. Savvy patients will look for a facility or hospital that is accredited by a respected source when considering treatment abroad.
Interestingly, medical tourism is not as nouveau as many believe. While it has certainly experienced an increase in popularity in recent years, the concept of traveling for healthcare dates back many centuries. The ancient Greeks were known to travel to a territory called Epidauria, in the Saronic Gulf of the Mediterranean, to seek healing from the god Asklepios. Even early spas can, in retrospect, be called medical tourism. In the 1700s, people from all around England traveled to the small village of Bath to partake in the supposed healing waters of the natural mineral springs. Americans, as well as citizens of other First World countries such as Europe, Japan, Canada, and the Middle East are opting to seek medical treatment outside of their own borders. In 2007, it is estimated that approximately 750,000 Americans sought medical treatment abroad, and that number was projected to double in 2008.
Medical tourism continues to increase in popularity because of the many benefits that are associated with receiving medical treatment abroad. The primary benefits of medical tourism include cost, convenience, and the ability to combine travel to exotic locals with high-quality medical treatment. Those who reside in countries with lower health standards participate in medical tourism as a means to receive medical treatment that is superior to what is available at home. However, those from First World countries are more likely to travel for medical reasons. It is generally cited that people from countries such as the U.S., Great Britain, and Canada generally possess more wealth; that coupled with their high expectations of healthcare in general, leads First World citizens to seek out alternative options, whether on the surgery table or the psychiatrist’s couch.