(Last updated on: 03/11/2021)
Medical tourism is a type of tourism that is on the rise around the world. Coming in many different shapes and forms, medical tourism is often sought by people in search of reduced priced cosmetic surgery, better healthcare systems than what is available to them in their home country or to obtain access to facilities or procedures that are not available to them at home. But what exactly is medical tourism and what does it look like? Read on to learn more…
What is medical tourism?
Ever heard of ‘Turkey teeth’? It seems like a lot of people have them, and that’s just one example of so-called medical tourism.
Medical tourism is when you travel to another country (or another part of your home country as a domestic tourist) to undergo a particular medical procedure. More often than not this is purely cosmetic, although of course people do need to travel for life-saving medical treatment sometimes too.
In the past, this generally meant people travelling from third world or less developed countries to obtain medical treatment in countries that can provide better healthcare systems. Now, it is often the other way round – people will travel to ‘developing’ countries as they can often get this treatment cheaper.
There is also the need to travel to different countries sometimes as the treatment you may want or need might not be available in your home country. For example, some cancer drugs are only available in the US meaning people will often travel from other countries to try it.
Medical tourism definitions
The CDC website defines and describes medical tourism as follows:
Medical tourism is when a person travels to another country for medical care. Each year, millions of US residents participate in medical tourism. Medical tourists from the United States commonly travel to Mexico and Canada, as well as countries in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean.
People may travel to another country to get health care for many reasons, including:
- Cost: To get treatment or a procedure that may be cheaper in another country.
- Culture: To receive care from a healthcare provider who shares the traveler’s culture and language.
- Unavailable or Unapproved procedure: To get a procedure or therapy that is not available or approved in the United States.
The most common procedures that people undergo on medical tourism trips include dental care, surgery, cosmetic surgery, fertility treatments, organ and tissue transplantation, and cancer treatment.
Of course this definition uses Americans as an example, but it works broadly too. The World Health Organisation also have a similar definition of medical tourism:
Medical tourists elect to travel across international borders to receive some form of medical treatment
- Treatments may span the full range of medical services
- Most common: dental care, cosmetic surgery, elective surgery, and fertility treatment – OECD, 2010
No agreed definition of medical tourism exist; as a result methods applied by countries vary substantially
- Some countries count foreign patients’ visits to hospitals whereas others count the entry of individual patients into the country
- Other countries record nationality but not place of residence of patients, can be problematic when migrants return to home country for treatment – WHO, 2011
Types of medical tourism
There are different types of medical tourism to consider. As mentioned, some visits are for cosmetic treatment whereas some are for life-saving medical treatment. According to Madre Healthcare (an Indian company specialising in medical tourism), these are the top 10 types of medical tourism…
- Cosmetic/plastic surgery
- Bariatric surgery
- Fertility treatment
- Eye surgery
- Ears, nose and throat
- Organ transplants
Medical tourism companies
There are various companies who have capitalised on the increase in people travelling for medical purposes, offering overall package deals making it easier for you to book these trips. These specialist travel agencies will facilitate the whole process. This includes arranging access and appointments as well as travel, visas, accommodation and more. Some even sort out sightseeing and activities for the rest of your trip!
According to IMARC, the global medical tourism market is set to grow even more in the next 5 years. It is also becoming more regulated, meaning people can feel safer when travelling for medical purposes. There are so many different medical tourism companies operating from each country, meaning you can find the perfect company to help organise your trip without any language barriers or confusion.
Simply search for ‘medical tourism company based in’ followed by your home country if you are looking for someone to help you navigate booking medical treatment abroad!
Some well-renowned medical tourism company examples include:
- MedicalHeathCare (UK, facilitating treatment in Turkey, Belgium, Poland, Croatia, Hungary, and Czech Republic)
- Fortis Healthcare Limited (India, facilitating treatment in Dubai, Sri Lanka and India)
- American Medical Care (USA, facilitating treatment in Costa Rica, Mexico and Nigeria as well as the USA)
Medical tourism destinations
There are certain places where medical tourism is most popular. These include many European countries as well as central America, Asia, the USA and more! Below you’ll see some of the leading destinations when it comes to medical tourism. Find out what makes them so popular!
- Czech Republic
Medical tourism in India
Worth an estimated $5-6 billion (USD), medical tourism in India is a big business. Most people who travel to India for medical treatments do so from Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa as well as the SAARC region. The government also has an extended visa regime in order to include medical visas, with a maximum stay of 6 months. India has low costs and up-to-date medical technology, which is what makes it the ideal place for medical tourism. Many doctors have trained in the Western world and speak brilliant English too, so there is much less of a language barrier in place for travelling patients.
The top locations within India for medical tourism are Maharashtra, Chennai and Kerala. In terms of the most popular treatments available in India to medical tourists, they are as follows:
- Alternative medicine
- Bone-marrow transplants
- Cardiac bypass
- Eye surgery
- Hip replacements
Costs tend to be around one tenth of what they would be in either the UK or the USA. This is why India is such a great choice: the low cost and solid regulations combined mean you’re getting the best of both worlds.
Medical tourism in Turkey
At the start of this article I mentioned so-called ‘Turkey teeth’. This is a popular phenomenon, especially in the UK – this excerpt from Dental Hygiene Studio sums it up…
‘Turkey Teeth’ is a new phrase to describe super-white, super-square teeth which millennials in particular are keen to get. Social media influencers are going abroad because they are impressed by slick looking clinics and cheaper prices.
Of course, other countries offer this service but it is particularly common in Turkey. With hot weather and plenty of beautiful places to see, bars to drink in and hotels to relax at, Turkey makes for an obvious choice. This is especially true for Brits as the flight isn’t too long!
Hair transplants are another big one in Turkey. Medical tourism in the country is regulated and has been since 2017. In 2018 alone, around 178,000 people flew to Turkey specifically for medical tourism purposes. The industry is said to contribute around $4 billion (USD) to Turkey’s economy every year, too.
Medical tourism in Brazil
The world’s 5th largest country is popular with tourists for its weather and iconic landmarks, and now for its medical procedures. They have an incredibly reliable healthcare system, said to be the continent’s most efficient – according to the WHO. In many cases citizens of nearby, lesser-developed countries opt to undertake medical procedures in Brazil. But it is also now a global destination for medical tourism!
Treatments are 60-70% cheaper here in comparison to the US and UK. Although, in the case of cosmetic surgery this isn’t strictly true. Highly trained surgeons have been known to charge as much if not more as their US counterparts. But for other treatments you are definitely getting a better deal and a holiday.
Sao Paulo and Florianopolis are the two most popular destinations in Brazil for medical tourism. The government is aiming to make them the two most popular destinations in the whole of South America! Over 50,000 tourists visit these two cities for medical tourism purposes every year, so they’re well on their way to achieving this goal…
Medical tourism in Thailand
While studies from the Thai government may be inaccurate in terms of their numbers, Thailand is still a popular destination for medical tourism. This study shows how the numbers might be skewed. All data should be taken with a pinch of salt!
Most people head over here for minor elective/cosmetic surgeries. Thailand also offers fantastic spine and orthopedic surgeries and treatment. Their technology is cutting edge, too. Medical tourists visit Thailand from all over the world, with many from Eastern-Med destinations as well as Southeast Asia and Europe. Stats from the past few years show the industry is worth around $600 million (USD) to the country.
Thailand is a fantastic tourist destination regardless. For minor surgeries with a quick recovery time, there are plenty of things to do. And if you’re on strict instructions to just relax after a medical procedure, what better way is there to do it than staying somewhere so beautiful?!
Medical tourism in the Czech Republic
When searching for medical tourism companies, you’ll find many options for the Czech Republic. With high standards, quality care and a beautiful setting, it is easy to see why Prague (the country’s capital) is such a popular destination for this type of travel.
For pre-and-post-op treatment, there are various spa facilities used in medical facilities. Czech medical teams have great results in terms of cardiology, orthopaedics and neurology as well as cosmetic surgery. Costs are much lower, they have the latest technology and the city has so much to see and do. For those in the UK and other eastern European countries, there is hardly any travel time too!
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