Ian Youngman from IMTJ tries to pick out his top
ten medical tourism destinations for 2012. An easy task? How can he pick the
top ten? By visitor numbers? By services on offer? By price? By quality and
As a starting point for writing this feature, it
seemed a good idea to find out how many countries there are where the tourism
board, governments, healthcare provider groups have declared that they are or
want to be a top ten medical tourism destination.
Then I thought of counting the countries where
hospitals, medical tourism agencies, consultants and those on the conference
circuit had claimed that country X was or would be or wanted to be a top ten
Somewhere around the 200 mark I gave up counting!
Now….. even if Maths was not your best subject at
school, it is fairly certain that you have already spotted the flaw. Not all
200 countries can be a top ten medical tourism destination.
The key basis for being classified within the top
ten should of course be the number of medical tourists that a country receives.
But then we get into the old arguments about who is a medical tourist, do you
or do you not count health and wellness tourists, and do you or do you not
include domestic medical tourists. For many of the major EU countries that we
know are popular destinations, there are no figures; while the figures declared
by certain countries are pure speculation.
So what else can we use to identify a “top ten
medical tourism destination”? Can we make a judgment based on other factors?
Let’s examine a few that might help us:
As I have yet to see anyone claiming they
have rubbish doctors (and bottom doctors is a specialty that just makes
the mind boggle), we can’t use doctor quality and expertise to
best and latest equipment, technology etc
In every country hospitals claim to have the
latest and greatest equipment. There’s actually little data around to
compare the standard and level of equipment and technology in hospitals
across the world. So…that’s out.
It’s a destination… it has hotels….next!
beaches/countryside/ tourist attractions
For some destinations, this may be a factor
that makes it more attractive to the potential customer. But if you have
cosmetic surgery, many doctors will tell you to stay off the beach and out
of the sun for a few weeks at least. If you are having dental treatment, are
you in the mood to enjoy the view and in the right frame of mind to enjoy
the food and drink and the sightseeing? If you have heart surgery, a new
knee or hip, will you be walking around or travelling in buses or taxis. Medical
travel is about treatment not a holiday.
Relevant…. but specifically related to the
origin country of the patient. And language fluency claimed by providers
may be highly variable. Translating ‘I want some food“ may be fine, but ‘I
have a pain just down here and it is irregular” may be a bit harder for an
interpreter. Many clinics use a translator, but few are specialists in
healthcare or receive medical training.
It is cheaper to walk than drive, so sell
your car. It is cheaper to turn off the heating in winter and freeze. It
is cheaper to eat less food, and starve. None of us choose goods or
services on the cheapest possible price; we look at value for money. Also,
my basic Maths again shows that if you have 200 countries than only one
can be the cheapest. Then there is the tactic of taking the lowest
possible price in one country (minus any extras) and comparing it with the
highest possible one in the USA or Europe. Yes, some places are less
expensive than others, but some destinations still don’t get it; claiming to
be the cheapest actually turns off customers who associate low cost with
high risk. Significantly several of the best regarded and best performing
medical tourism destinations such as the Germany, the UK, and Switzerland
do no such thing. Ironically, the country almost every other country
compares prices against, the USA, is probably a top three inbound medical
most accredited hospitals
Driven by JCI’s marketing efforts from the USA, levels of international
accreditation are always a claim made by destinations…..” we have ‘n’ JCI
accredited hospitals.” The number
of other international and national accreditators has risen in recent
years. It is a good thing that international hospital standards are being
developed. But when you count up the number of hospitals with JCI or
similar international level accreditations, you have to give up counting. Some
sectors and market segments within the USA may be fixated on JCI
accreditation, but elsewhere it may mean little to consumers and payors.
what are the top ten medical tourism destinations for 2012?
can’t compare destinations on numbers… because they not available, not
valid or not comparable.
can’t compare destinations on other factors…because they are irrelevant or
The whole concept of ‘top ten medical tourism
destinations’ is not only laughable but the way that many countries are
promoted is out of date and assumes that the customer is a fool.
Much of the way the industry has been and is
marketed is “advertising puffery” (see
definition) and is down to the hyping of the sector by
those who are seeking short term profit before moving onto the next ‘big thing’.
If I hear another “best doctors/cheapest
prices/nice beaches/latest hospitals”, I promise to, in the words of one of Richmal Crompton’s characters, “scream very loudly until I am sick!”.
Ian Youngman is a writer and researcher specialising
in insurance and health. He writes regularly for a variety of
magazines, newsletters, and on-line services. He also publishes a range
of insurance reports and undertakes research for companies. An ACII,
with an honours degree in Economics from the University of Liverpool,
Ian was a co-founder of The General Insurance Market Research
Association. He also has widespread experience within the insurance
industry at management level, working for brokers, a bank and an
Comments provided below do not represent the views of IMTJ. Comments will be published "as is" and will not be edited by IMTJ staff. IMTJ is hosting these comments, and is not undertaking an editorial role in the content of these comments. However, it is editorial policy not to publish comments which have been submitted anonymously.