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Medical tourism sector as a source of foreign revenue by exporting professional services

Medical tourism industry has benefited cross-border patients with a extensive spectrum which include travel and tourism, commercial sector, insurance sector, government relationships and international accreditation sector. Medical tourism is an historical entity which comes from ancient times, but the concept it is now taking does differ from earlier eras even differ from 50 years ago. Today, with the globalisation of information and the empowerment of the consumer, medical tourism involves individuals acting as a consumer or insurer, making their own decisions regarding their health needs, economic perspectives, deciphering how they (or their insured one) can best be treated, and then finding the most appropriate provider.

Demographic changes in advanced economies caused new health concern

Countries Marketing Their Medical Tourism Opportunities
Medical tourism conferences are commercial meetings, marked by an appropriately inflated registration fee and a complete lack of public health awareness. Countries marketing their medical tourism have booths full of promotional items (flash drives, pens, souvenirs, brochures) to attract potential buyers (individuals, facilitators and insurers). When I visit medical tourism conference I am afraid of near future as a MD, because of more and more industrialised health sector and profit focused healthcare services. While medical tourism has the potential to provide economic and employment opportunities in destination countries, there are concerns that it could encourage the movement of health workers from the public to private health sector.

My review of existing searchable knowledge (web search, literatures, independent articles, conference reports, presentations and blogs) about the medical tourism allows me several summary points:

Many destination countries offering state-of-the-art medical and surgical services as well as hospitality services

  • Governments in destination countries view the medical tourism sector as a source of foreign revenue by exporting professional services often offering generous subsidies as incentives to private sector investors. Focusing on revenue and medical tourism can be resulted by neglected public health issues
  • While medical tourism has the powerful potential to provide economic and employment opportunities in destination countries, there are concerns that it could stimulate the movement of health professionals from the public to private health institute. These impact longer waiting times for care on the public services and a shift in planning priorities driven by the medical tourism sector .
  • Private and some public health insurers with deeply interests in lowering costs through incentivising cheaper services abroad rather than quality of healthcare provided in destination countries 2


Health insurers with deeply interests in lowering costs through incentivising cheaper services abroad.


  • Tourism industry in destination countries that increasingly partners with healthcare service providers to create attractive package deals which is being more prominent than health matters
  • Developing countries such as Malaysia, India, Turkey, Thailand becoming more main prestigious destinations competing for wealthier patients from neighbouring nations or developed countries for medical traveller, notably the US and UK
  • There is increasing evidence that medical tourists seek help from medical travel facilitators to avoid critical preparations in finding reliable providers and ensuring trouble-free travel arrangements. In medical tourism, these facilitators play a significant role as moderator in engaging between the prospective patients in one country and medical facilities elsewhere around the world .
  • Demographic changes in advanced economies caused new health concern and create more wait-time problems in healthcare facilities which results by patient flows to emerging destinations.
  • The creation of major health centres with western trained physicians in many destination countries offering state-of-the-art medical and surgical services as well as hospitality services
  • How controversial procedures such as organ transplantation, curettage, assisted suicide or surrogacy might be better managed
  • Apart from cost driven decision, medical travellers are choosing developing countries for better technologies and procedures that are not yet available or approved in their home countries.
  • Even though quality of healthcare services and accreditation is improving in many developing country destinations, some countries have limited malpractice protection and weak mechanisms for medical liability or for pursuit of compensation claims 2 . Without malpractice insurance costs developing country practitioners and facilities support to maintain low prices but medical tourists within trouble if malpractice is suspected.


There is a growing literature on different aspect of medical tourism but still there is the lack of reliable and accessible data on the extent of medical tourism. This sector needs more deliberative studies.

There is a significant lack of reliable and definitive data on the scale of the revenues generated, both directly and indirectly, and on detailed accounts of who is benefiting and who may be losing 1 . For example some countries are accepting conventional tourism expenditure of medical traveller as medical tourism revenue others are accepting only healthcare or hospital costs as medical tourism income. World Trade Organisation can assist in developing metrics to assess medical tourism sector and National Statistics Department or Agencies of destination counties can support data about medical tourism. This data will not only focused on economics evaluation of sector also will include impact of medical tourism on public healthcare.

Some measure of patient flows could be estimated from data collected by medical tourism brokerages or destination country healthcare facilities 1 . Most reliable data comes from medical tourism brokers or facilitator agents if medical travel arranged by all-inn-package. All-inn-package invoices include everything from home to home. But such information may be considered confidential or the healthcare providers may be unwilling to release it.

In brief, obtaining a satisfactory information to evaluate this industry will not be easy. Any new study on medical tourism or medical traveller should also address its questions and analyses within the broader frame of global health sector reform. Last century fro the global health sector has been characterised by decreasing public health demand and increasing private sector involvement. This shift from public health service to private health industry is not well-regulated and is highly inequitable in access and impact 4 5 which resulted by individuals own decision to be a medical traveller.

At base, medical tourism having effects on many other aspects of health systems and policy, and indeed of contemporary globalisation itself. While this is a short summary, the progress of the medical tourism industry has had extensive impact on economic, social, environmental, business and medical sectors of inbound and outbound countries.

Today, medical tourism is no longer about cheaper procedures and medically driven holiday trips. It is also
about the quality of physicians and provider’s technology, and care models that many of inbound countries
are pursuing that make this form of health tourism different.

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