Medical Tourism in Asia - July 2013
WHAT IS MEDICAL TOURISM?
Medical tourism is the practice of people travelling from their home country to another destination to have medical, dental or surgical care to enhance their physical health or mental well-being. It also includes obtaining indigenous and alternative medical services and other forms of tourism for the purpose of addressing a health concern.
Despite its continuing growth and the creation of economic opportunities in Asia and other developing countries, modern medical tourism is a relatively young industry and still has no formally agreed definition. Its many titles include ‘medical travel’, ‘health tourism’, ‘global health care’, ‘cross-border medical tourism’, ‘medical outsourcing’, ‘international health care’ and in India, ‘medical value tourism’.
While people have travelled to improve their health since ancient times, ‘price-sensitive’ medical tourism, where people often travel long distances for lower-cost medical care, is a relatively new concept that has only emerged in the last ten to 15 years. Despite the global economic slowdown, demand continues to escalate, especially for cosmetic surgery, with the result that many developing countries are eager to become medical tourism destinations. Asia was one of the first regions in the world to offer medical tourism and Asian countries still dominate the market – notably Thailand, Singapore and India – all established and popular tourist destinations.
Medical tourism unites two of the world’s largest industries – medicine and tourism, two high-growth but seemingly incompatible domains (one associated with pain and illness, the other with travel and pleasure). According to Professor C Michael Hall in his book, Medical Tourism, The ethics, regulation and marketing of health mobility, published by Routledge (2013), their combination has created a niche industry worth US$100 billion in 2012 (up from US$40 billion in 2004). Medical tourism is one of the fastest-growing sectors of the travel industry due to a number of factors:
- the escalating cost of health care in developed countries
- long waiting lists in developed countries with state health care
- new technologies and skills in destination countries
- globalisation of health care and movement of patients, health professionals and medical technology across continents
- growth in demand for cosmetic surgery and cosmetic dentistry
- the internet
- affordable airfares.
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