Caroline Ratner summarises the debate around 'Who owns medical tourism?'


Last week’s article on the recent dispute between the Medical Tourism Association, the International Medical Travel Association and the International Medical Travel Association (Americas) sparked some heated debate in the industry and some strong views from both sides of the debate.

There were few people who were overtly supportive of the MTA legal action. One contributor stated, “Pretty interesting that all the quotes are Anti-MTA and no quotes were given by anyone supporting the MTA”. In terms of both solicited and unsolicited comments, some MTA members appear reluctant to speak out, either in support of their organisation or against it. Another contributor felt that the MTA’s status – for profit or non profit - is irrelevant as long as they deliver value to the industry.

In its brief history, the MTA seems to have contributed to a dichotomy of views in the medical tourism world.  As a trade association, the MTA membership represents a very small percentage of the agencies, hospitals and clinics worldwide that service medical travellers, and lacks support from some of the major medical tourism facilitators both in the USA and elsewhere. Nevertheless, it has a loud voice.

  • The key concerns raised by contributors to the debate focus on the status and role of the MTA:
  • Although it is registered as a non-profit, some contributors questioned whether its activities are more typical of a commercial entity rather than a non-profit trade association and the way in which decisions are taken?
  • Some contributors questioned whether it is appropriate for the Officers of the Association to have commercial interests outside of the MTA which benefit directly from their role at the MTA.
  • Some contributors were concerned about the direction of the MTA and whether it is appropriate for a non-profit trade association to be run by an Executive Board of two people.
  • Several contributors felt that an organisation run by lawyers is too inclined to solve problems by legal means and that it is a reflection of the tendency to sue in the US healthcare system.

It’s undeniable that the Medical Tourism Association has achieved a great deal in raising the profile of medical tourism, notably in the USA. However, its critics question whether it represents the interests of the industry as a whole, and whether it should be a “spokesman” for the industry on a broader basis.

So, where do we go from here?

Firstly, we have to consider whether the Medical Tourism Association is in effect the “Medical Tourism Association of the USA” or whether it’s the “World Medical Tourism Association”, and what it’s longer term ambitions might be.

Secondly, if the industry needs a global trade association for medical travel (and there are some who would question this), then we suggest that it should be structured in a similar way to other trade and membership associations that play a role in the healthcare sector, and should follow best practice for such bodies. Some of these best practices were highlighted in Rajesh Rao’s constructive comments. They can be summarised as follows:

  1. The association has a Governing Council which includes representatives from the largest companies in the sector and a good cross-section of other members, both large and small businesses.
  2. The officers of the association are elected by the membership and are answerable to the Governing Council.
  3. The association has a clear constitution which defines mission and objectives, membership criteria, financial matters, meetings and decision-making processes, roles of the Governing Council and its Officers.
  4. The association has a business plan which sets out its strategy and priority areas and which is approved by the Governing Council.
  5. The association publishes an annual report, business plan and financial accounts to members.
  6. Income generated by the Association is directed for the benefit of the members and is retained within the Association.


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