Medical Tourism and Health Tourism are growth industries in the travel sector. While these terms are often used interchangeably there is, or should be a difference.

What exactly is Medical Tourism?

Medical tourism is where many people choose to go to other countries like Thailand, India, Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and Latin America to have medical procedures done.

Many people choose medical tourism, because the price of treatments at is much lower in some countries other than your own. Often, many medical treatments are only available in some countries and not in others, meaning that people will travel to get what they need.

This can be anything from cosmetic to dental and major surgery and/or major treatments including transplants. The reasons that they are choosing this are many.

Cost is one of the major factors, and another is the availability of services.

What is Health Tourism?

Health Tourism is a little different to Medical Tourism. It is to improve one’s health and well being, and is not a new phenomena at all. Many people throughout times, have gone to spa towns to ‘take the waters‘, to improve their health. Many people travel to places like Bali to go to yoga retreats. Some people choose to retire to other countries for the health benefits associated with this, and Brits relocating to the sun of Spain may be a prime example.

Health Tourism Takes Many Forms

Yoga, Meditation, spas and retreats, health farms. One could even say that cycling tours, walking tours etc all fall under the physical improvement tourism industry.

These are on trend travel industries

There are specific medical tourism companies and health tourism companies that are geared up to provide a lot of information, and often a lot of incentive to those thinking about either of these options. The medical tourist industry and health tourism industries are both significant in the travel industry.

Patients without Borders estimates that “around 8 million patients from across the world seek overseas treatment each year, contributing to a global industry worth $24-$40 billion, says Patients Beyond Borders.” Top Destinations for Health Tourism

Many countries obviously derive many benefits from both Medical and Health Tourism. A lot of the countries that offer such services are

Three Broad Categories in Medical Tourism.

Many people choose Medical Travel for cosmetic enhancements. Others choose it for dental work, and the third category are people who cannot get the treatment that they need for very real medical problems in their own country. Many are so very sick that they are willing to travel anywhere to get treatment that may work.

Needs Based Medical Tourism

I find this to be one of the most compelling reasons that Medical Tourism is considered.

Do you want to get cancer treatment that is not available in your country? Do you need some drugs to counter a very real and threatening condition, which has not been approved in your country.

Often the price for fertility treatments like IVF are prohibitive in some countries but less so in other countries and thus these are certainly part of the medical tourists so to speak.

Gender re-assignment is often more affordable in other countries

I know that some terminally ill people are going to Switzerland to die with dignity, in assisted suicide. I again make no judgment, but it is a real part of Medical Tourism and a distressing one also, but one that does exist.

Read these articles 

Euthanasia in Switzerland and Dignitas

Dental Medical Tourism

This seems to be very popular and probably with good reason. I will preface this with the fact that in our country Australia, we have an excellent medical system, with Medicare Australia’s universal health scheme. Private health insurance is also available should you choose to pay for it. We would have one of the best health systems in the world, but … and there is always a but .. dental work is mega expensive.

Our story. Gordon broke a tooth while skiing in Nozawa Onsen, Japan. He needed to go to the dentist in this little village. A couple of hours later, his tooth was fixed perfectly, and the cost was for approx. $50. In Australia, we would have been looking at a few hundred dollars, at the very least and probably quite a few hundred dollars. However, to counterpoint this, because we have private medical insurance in Australia, we would have recouped some of the cost, but not as much.

A better example is an Australian man we met in the same village in Japan required root canal therapy.

You know, that is the treatment that allows your dentist to go on their own ski holidays because you have just paid for it. 

This is at least $2,000 – $3,000 in Australia and for some reason, the private health insurance doesn’t cover this or only a small portion of this cost. So, he flew to Japan on a $600 cheap flight, stayed at a reasonably priced hotel in Japan and paid $200 for the crown. You can see then why people consider Medical Tourism, for dental work.

We have friends getting similar dental treatments in many Asian and Pacific Island countries at much-reduced prices, making medical tourism a viable option for them. I know that Costa Rica, Hungary, and Thailand similarly have very attractive dental services.

Cosmetic Medical Tourism

Need bigger boobs? Pop into Thailand or Brazil.

Perhaps you need your love handles siphoned out? Go to Korea. Don’t want your friends to know that you are getting a facelift? Go on a pilgrimage to India, and return so rejuvenated you that you now look like a youngster again?

All jokes aside many people do travel for cosmetic enhancements. I have no intention of judging their decisions because it is not always vanity that drives people to go under the knife in a country where there are language differences, where there is an unknown quantity in what they will be getting and the conditions that this will be performed under.

It is what is it is, though as with any surgery that is elective, you obviously need to do some very serious homework before undertaking this. I would say that even in your own country you would similarly want to do your homework.

One of the main reasons that people do choose to go to other countries to have cosmetic surgery performed is the price, which inevitably is cheaper than your own country. Another is that you can come back a new person without your friends and family watching you go through the recovery process. Alternatively you can all have a holiday together in a luxury environment with benefits.

How does a Medical Need Align with Tourism?

Will this change in scenery and often different and beautiful surroundings help you to feel better? Will the doting service to you and your family assist in your situation? I would hazard a guess and say yes.

If you have just had major surgery, boobies or even heart surgery, then recuperating on a beach, or in a resort where you are treated like the only person who exists can be beneficial for both your psychological as well as your physical recovery. If family and friends are with you, then this assistance will also help them.

There is a reason that Medical Tourism and Health Tourism are growth industries. While there is still some stigma attached to this, 8 million people cannot be always wrong, and with due diligence perhaps it needs to be looked at more openly.

A very interesting study has been published by York University, is Medical Tourism: Treatments, Markets and Health System Implications: A scoping review

What would I do?

Obviously I have given this some thought. I doubt I would go and get fake boobs. If drugs were available elsewhere in the world, that would save my life, my family or a friends life, then definitely I would. Would I go for a life-saving operation that may or may not work in a country I was unfamiliar with? I would give it definite consideration. I guess however that none of us would know what we would do until we were in the situation. But now, there are options.

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