Also referred to as health tourism, medical tourism is the practice of traveling across borders to either provide or receive healthcare (the latter being more common). This practice has been around a long time, but has become much more popular in the past decade. Dr. Paul Gahlinger notes in his book, “The Medical Tourism Guide’, that over 50 countries now recognize medical tourism as a national industry. Traveling to receive dental and fertility care has become so popular that they are branching off into their own sub categories (Dental Tourism and Fertility Tourism).
When most people think of traveling for medical care they think of people traveling to resource-rich countries to get the best care; however the majority of medical tourism is quite the opposite. Many patients travel from large countries, such as the United States, to countries around the world such as Argentina, Colombia, Hong Kong, India, The Philippines, and many more. Why you ask? To avoid expensive healthcare and long wait times for parts/procedures, due to such large populations and competing wealth. Common procedures to travel abroad for would be joint replacements, cardiac surgery, dental surgery, and cosmetic surgeries. Many do travel to the United States to seek healthcare, most commonly for specialized surgeries and in cases with rare diseases.
Traveling abroad for healthcare has its risks as well. Before we even get to the actual medical care, many of these countries are dangerous areas due to crime and political disputes (often dictating what countries are acceptable to travel to). Medical tourism can also be dangerous because you can be exposed to foreign germs and disease that your immune system has never seen and cannot defend. Each country has its own healthcare standards, making them difficult to compare and judge. A facility that offers post-operative care in Thailand may be a bit different than the United States. Other risks include limited contact with your surgeon or medical facility after the procedure as well as several ethical dilemmas regarding illegally purchases organs. Patient safety is an area that providers of healthcare software solutions can help address.
The industry has grown so large that they are now medical tourism providers. They gather your medical history and information, help you find a suitable destination and facility, and help you obtain a medical visa. This growth has also spawned the Medical Tourism Association, founded in 2007. The Association consists of hospitals, healthcare providers, medical tourism providers, insurance agencies, and others with the common goal of globally improving and standardizing the healthcare industry.