The Medical Tourism Association offers a straightforward definition of medical tourism: the act of traveling outside one’s own area of residence for healthcare. This may take them 200 miles away from home or halfway around the world, but most people regard medical tourism—also called medical travel, health travel, and global healthcare—as travel that takes them across borders to receive medical care.
Let’s explore this segment of the marketplace by answering the most frequently asked questions:
How big is the medical tourism market?
According to Patients Beyond Borders, the market size is $45.5-72 billion US Dollars, based on approximately 14 million cross-border patients worldwide spending an average of $3,800-6,000 per visit, including medically-related costs, cross-border and local transport, inpatient stay and accommodations. They estimate the market is growing at a rate of 15-25%, with inbound patient flows highest in Mexico, Southeast and South Asia.
According to Deloitte, Thailand is currently the biggest market. But the improved diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba will increase the demand for medical tourism in the Americas. Mexico, the world’s second-biggest medical tourism destination, generated $3 billion in 2014 and it’s expected that with increased investment, the country could grow medical tourism revenues to $10 billion-$12 billion in the following seven to eight years.
What factors are driving this trend? Generally speaking, medical tourism has grown along with healthcare costs—at least in the US, where the cost of treatments is significantly higher than that offered in countries like India and Mexico. This explains why Research and Markets projects the North America outbound medical tourism services market to register a CAGR of 25.5% between 2016 and 2016 and expects it to be valued at $150.36 billion US Dollars by the end of 2026.
For US medical tourists without insurance, or whose insurance policy doesn’t cover a desired procedure or service (or their cost-sharing is too high), they can often find a lower price elsewhere. It’s the higher ticket-price services they’re traveling for because these make the biggest impact on the budget as well as quality of life.
An aging global population is another factor contributing to the rise in medical tourism. The 2016 VISA and Oxford Economics medical tourism study revealed that by 2025, travelers aged 65 and older will more than double their international travel to 180 million trips, accounting for one in eight international trips globally.
Traveling internationally is also getting easier for people in all income brackets due to increasing digital connectivity and more affordable travel options being offered by suppliers. The VISA and Oxford Economics study points out that with the construction of more than 340 new airports over the next decade and the subsequent addition of new routes and destinations, international travel will be more convenient for people. In other words, the expanding middle class is benefiting from the “democratization of travel,” to quote VISA and Oxford Economics.
How do prices compare from country-to-country…
Here are examples of the price variations (in US Dollars) in different countries:
…and does price = quality?
There’s growing global competition to attract patients. Facilities in the market are showing their commitment to high standards of care by adopting new technology, improving both quality of healthcare services and the amenities offered to medical tourists. Importantly, they’re earning accreditations from organization including Joint Commission International (JCI), Trent Accreditation Scheme, Accreditation Canada, or another agency that is recognized by the International Society for Quality in Health Care Inc. (ISQua). ISQua members include:
- The Australian Council on Healthcare Standards
- Canadian Council on Health Services Accreditation
- Australian General Practice Accreditation Limited
- Irish Health Services Accreditation Board, now HIQA
- Council for Health Service Accreditation of Southern Africa
- Taiwan Joint Commission on Healthcare Accreditation
- Quality Improvement Council, Australia
- CHKS Healthcare Accreditation Quality Unit, UK
- Joint Commission International, USA
What healthcare services are typically sought? While medical tourism gained popularity as a way to receive elective procedures, like plastic surgery or cosmetic dentistry, it has become an option for non-elective procedures as well. These include hip replacements, fertility treatments, angioplasty, and last-resort cancer treatments. See Patients Beyond Borders for more information.
How are people “booking” their trips? Medical tourism facilitators are specialized travel agencies providing the traditional services like booking flights and accommodations, helping to facilitate passports, and arranging ground transportation. But they also act as the liaison between the patient and the medical providers.