Can medical tourism on its own be sustainable?


In my view, medical tourism is about health services provided by a medical doctor, or under the supervision of a medical doctor (also known as a physician in the United States) and involves some travel.

And medical tourism can involve going abroad for treatment or travelling within your own country (internal medical tourism). Medical tourism is also about “destinations”.

The question I pose in this Second Opinion article is: are destinations that focus exclusively on medical tourism, sustainable?

For me, the clear and simple answer is “No, they are not sustainable.” If destinations wish to develop a sustainable model, they need to consider the development of services within other health tourism segments.

A lot has to do with the advantages of the “Long Tail” over the “Short Tail”. And the recession and “the West’s Revenge” also come into play, in support of my thesis.

The medical tourism “Purists” are now encroaching on the other health tourism segments

Even publications embracing “Medical Travel” or “Medical Tourism” are now, more and more, including articles on the other health tourism segments such as spa, wellness, and dental tourism.

Likewise, associations, claiming to steadfastly represent the interests of the medical tourism industry, are showing a creeping – but distinct – interest in addressing the other health tourism segments, as well.

I feel that in both cases, those responsible for publications and industry representative bodies are seeing the writing on the wall, and are hastening to broaden their appeal, and maintain their relevance.

The slowing of growth

…of “Medical Tourism Abroad”

We are seeing the slowing of growth of medical tourism abroad and the growing appeal of internal medical tourism. As an example, let’s examine what is happening in the United States.

Even the USA-based Medical Tourism Association has changed its tune and is now making a lot of noise about internal medical tourism and the USA as a medical tourism destination (see the West’s Revenge, below).

The West’s Revenge

…current prominence is in no guarantee of future eminence

The West’s Revenge (a phrase I / healthCare cybernetics coined in 2008) is all about countries previously regarded as “Sources of Medical Tourists” becoming Medical Tourism Destinations themselves – a recent example being Canada.

The “West’s Revenge” also refers to countries which were once prominent destinations for medical care regaining their prominence (through concerted initiatives). The two countries which come to mind are the USA and the UK.

In the case of the USA, systematic and concerted marketing efforts (partly funded by the US Government) have been deployed to once again showcase and promote the country as a destination for medical care.

The same, more or less can be said of the United Kingdom. Even the British NHS is jumping in on the act.

In recent years, both countries were regarded as sources of medical tourists or travelers.

But in the more distant past, both were known as destinations for medical care, and for their centers of excellence.

I feel we will soon see history repeating itself – “after the short break”.

The Effect of Recession

…on Medical Tourism Abroad

Much of medical tourism abroad was fueled by the slogan “Top Quality – Bottom Prices”. This appealed to cash-strapped or cost-sensitive consumers.

Many providers, basing their reasoning on simplistic thinking, felt that the recession would further boost medical tourism abroad.

Of course, this just did not happen!

During a recession, people put off having medical treatment involving an out of pocket expense – whether it is abroad or at home.

The Short Tail vs the Long Tail

…narrow vs broad focus development

Developing an exclusively medical tourism destination (as some still seem intent on doing) represents the narrow focus (or “short tail” – and even “short-sighted”) approach. I wish them good luck. I have concluded that the broad focus (Long Tail) approach is the way to go – for reasons which are explained.

The broad focus approach (as exemplified by ht8) creates a larger and more diverse industry to address a much broader market. Industry size and choice is very important in influencing perceptions and inspiring confidence amongst consumers.

The broad focus approach also acts as an insurance policy for a destination. Should the demand for one segment diminish (even temporarily), you still have seven others to keep you going.

Furthermore, the comprehensive approach allows destinations to exploit the “Long Tail” phenomenon (increased choice creates increased demand).

Finally, a broader industry encourages “cross referrals” between Segments (the providers of one service category can refer to and receive referrals from providers of the other segments – increasing business for all).

From “have to” to “want to”

…how to save Medical Tourism Abroad

So how do we save the “abroad” version of medical tourism?

The simple answer is to offer more than just “Top Quality – Bottom Prices” as an incentive.

Basically, we need to make medical tourism into a “want to” activity – as opposed to a “have to” activity, which it has been in recent times.


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Medical tourism clusters are not in the right league

“Fragmentistan Syndrome”

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The “Fragmentistan Syndrome” in medical tourism

Industry Representative Bodies

Articles, 31 January, 2017

The raison d'être of Health Tourism Industry Representative Bodies

Health tourism improvements

Articles, 21 September, 2016

Making health tourism “truly” sustainable and resilient – for all

The rise of domestic medical tourism

Articles, 10 December, 2015

Why more and more medical tourism business is becoming “domestic”

Insurance funded treatment abroad

Articles, 15 October, 2015

The future of “Health-Plan-Funded” treatment abroad

A fortune in pyramids

Articles, 12 June, 2015

Is there a fortune at the bottom of the medical tourism pyramid?

Saying NO

Articles, 24 November, 2014

Why some countries are turning their back on medical tourism.

"Buyers" at events

Articles, 07 August, 2014

Hosted "Buyers" fail to live up to expectations

Who leads "Health Tourism Destinations"?

Articles, 22 May, 2014

Are there leaders, or does he who pays, speaks?

The Russian Patient

Articles, 22 April, 2014

Russia is the new focus for medical tourist companies.

Why "Google Health" failed

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Examining the electronic health record "Death Trap"

Greece as a destination

Articles, 29 November, 2013

Times are changing as Greece tries to become a major destination.

Luxury and Medicine

Articles, 07 October, 2013

If medical tourism is all about cost, why so many luxury destinations?

Conventional bankruptcy

Articles, 27 August, 2013

The old models have failed, but what replaces them?

State and Government

Articles, 17 June, 2013

The role of governments in developing health tourism

Haves and wants

Articles, 12 April, 2013

How have to travel is being replaced by wanting to travel

Changing motivations

Articles, 01 February, 2013

Is medical tourism experiencing a shift from 'have to' to 'want to'

Discovering medical tourism

Articles, 22 October, 2012

Despite the recession, there's still growth in medical tourism

Tourism "free zones"

Articles, 01 June, 2012

What are the goals and benefits?

International medical children

Articles, 18 May, 2012

How the EU directive may stimulate an increase in child care

On ice?

Articles, 23 April, 2012

Dr Constantine Constantinides talks on the EU directive on Cross Border Healthcare

Short/long term

Articles, 06 March, 2012

Which should we focus on in medical tourism

Survivor bias

Articles, 23 January, 2012

Past success is no predictor of future eminence

Healthcare standards

Articles, 21 October, 2011

Do standards need to have a regional flavour?

Understanding the market

Articles, 03 June, 2011

Why would you want to get into the medical tourism market?

Exploring the health tourism market

Articles, 28 January, 2011

Constantine Constantinides provides advice as to understanding the health tourism market

Government incentives for health tourism

Articles, 29 November, 2010

Constantine Constantinides speaks on the role of government in medical travel


Articles, 26 August, 2010

Constantine Constantinides talks on why medical tourism businesses fail

Should accreditation be sold

Articles, 29 July, 2010

Constantine Constantinides talks on how should handle Destination Marketing

Blowing their own trumpet

Articles, 26 February, 2010

Is there any noise from the market, or is it all in the industry?

Brightest Africa

Articles, 20 January, 2010

Is Africa always a exporter, or can it be a healthcare destination?

Cross-border opposition

Articles, 10 December, 2009

Spain and other nations blocked the draft proposal, we ask the experts why

The resentment factor

Articles, 15 October, 2009

Health tourism is often resented by countries, but can it have positive effects?

Free and open debate

Articles, 22 September, 2009

Constantine Constantinides voices concern over the expression of opinions in the industry

Medical tourism in denial

Articles, 30 July, 2009

Supply is exceeding demand in medical tourism, but the industry is in denial



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