The Centre for Medical Tourism Research speaks on their goals


What are the goals of the center?

Our goal is to conduct research into medical tourism and also to centralise some of the research into all aspects of medical tourism that’s going on around the world. We aim to be an advocate for researchers and hope to help fund research and be a voice for sanity and clarity. We try to collect quantitative information and rigorously evaluate research. At the moment we are looking at research from India, Germany, Mexico and other countries. 

We soon hope to have enough data to make policy recommendations to various governments and organisations throughout the world. We’re a bit away from policy recommendations at the moment because things like numbers and type are still not as valid as they should be.

You have your second annual conference at Washington in February, what is the conference about and who is attending?

The main theme of the conference is about “Knowledge in the Medical Tourism Industry-   and the growing Importance of Research”. We are bringing a wide circle of researchers from all over the world including professors and researchersfrom Philippines, Tunisia, Germany, United States, Austria, there will be about twenty presentations in total. The entire schedule is available on the website

The keynote speaker is Glen Cohen, a Harvard Law Professor who is going to talk about legal precedents in medical tourism from a legal and philosophical perspective that he suggests government implements.  He will also talk about the potential for taxation vis a vis medical tourism and also the implications on US citizens and fraud legislation in relation to medical tourism and the legal implications of travelling abroad for assisted suicide.

We are strategically holding the conference in Washington because we want to get the attention of NGOs and US and foreign government entities. We are expecting to have representation for the US Department of State as well as several Congressional staffers and also representatives from various embassies because we want to get government bodies involved in the research and want to raise awareness among the US government of medical travel and the work we are doing.

We also hope to have enough data to report to the conference on our newest study entitled “Are you willing to leave the country and retire someone because of cost and healthcare”. It is currently too expensive for many US citizens to retire in US major cities and many are going to have to rethink their retirement plans.  Mercer recently did research into the top 25% of wealthiest Americans and it revealed that they don’t have enough money to retire on if they want to stay in major urban areas. This factor will change health care everywhere.

Do you think the US Government and US medical insurance companies are taking a serious and active interest into research into the potential of medical travel?

Not at the moment. The US Government entities are not yet interested into research into US health travel because they are only interested in healthcare reform at the moment. The European Union has been much better in terms of funding research into cross border healthcare.  Most insurance companies are only thinking about domestic healthcare at the moment, it’s not a priority although some are looking at it but I believe that they are more concerned about their core business and currently have little interest in the future of international healthcare travel. We currently have no support from insurance companies or governmental entities. The Governments that are prepared to pay for research are Turkey, India and Korea.

What information does the CMTR have on US citizens that have had treatment abroad throughout the world?

The US Department of Commerce has asked people travelling internationally what was the purpose of their trip and that survey revealed that nearly 200,000 had travelled abroad for healthcare in 2008/9.  Our numbers are quite high and we worked out that upwards of a million people that travelled internationally for health in 2009 whether purposefully or unintentionally (they became ill or had an accident while abroad). To come up with this number our question was “have you travelled internationally for healthcare”. We put no restrictions on what we called health travel.  A person going to Canada or Mexico for pharmaceuticals counts.  Dental treatment is the largest reason for US medical travel.  With 20% of the US population living in the south west (largest segments being Hispanics and retirees) many  American dentists have set up practices in Mexico where they can charge considerably less than they would just over the border.

From your research and your knowledge of the international marketplace what do you think are the biggest upcoming issues in international healthcare?

My theory is that there will never be enough health care available throughout the world to satisfy consumer demand. I believe that there are a number of factors that will contribute to this and have an impact on the provision of healthcare and medical travel.  Firstly the population throughout the world is ageing and older people generally require more healthcare than younger people. The Western world is in recession but the emerging markets and newly industrialised countries like India and China are experiencing rapid economic growth and as a result the consumer class in India and China is growing rapidly. Business Week recently reported on the growing affluence in these two countries and estimate that together they have a middle class of 1 billion people.  As they get more money these people are going to want to buy more healthcare. Our need for quality healthcare is now insatiable, for example people go for diagnostic tests even when they don’t need to because they can afford to – the worried well. Additionally as the population ages they will visit healthcare practitioners three times more a year than when they were younger.  All this will create an overload and a two tier system, where people will go to public healthcare providers for the basic stuff and private for more specialised and there will never be enough quality healthcare to satisfy demand.

What other situations are emerging that you believe will have an impact on medical travel?

As a result of this healthcare shortage investors from all over the world are investing in healthcare.  One example is that one of the biggest private equity firms in the world, The Carlyle Group, of which George W Bush is an investor, recently took a major investment in Turkish healthcare system called Parkway. Turkey is an attractive location for people investing in healthcare and retirement housing and the country is preparing for an influx of Northern European and Russian retirees.  The cost of living is low, it’s got a temperate climate, it’s in a great location and as a result is currently getting a lot of direct foreign investments from US and Middle Eastern investors. It’s being seen as a retirement haven and perhaps up to a million people will retire to Turkey and they will want high quality healthcare when they get there.

I also believe that there will never have enough hospitals in India because they can build the hospitals but there will not be enough staff to run them and this applies across the world too. There are not going to be enough doctors and nurses, because the population is top heavy and there will not be enough medical staff to serve the ageing baby boomers.  What will happen is that the rich will end up with best healthcare and the majority will have to wait longer and pay more.

One thing that will drive medical travel is access to cheaper medication, especially as increasing numbers of US go to Canada and Mexico to get drugs.  Also people will be able to get hold of drugs and medical equipment before they have been approved for use in the US and Europe. Drugs are available in India five years before in UK, EU or US, so if you want the latest and best pharmaceuticals will have to go to India if you don’t want to wait for them to be approved in the EU and the US.

How do you get funding?

Most of our funding came from one study from Korea but we’ve had other funding and the university gives us money too. We received $40k from Korea and spent 50% of it on collecting data. Last year we received $5-6,000 in donations. The University gave us money - $20,000 for past two years.

Are you affiliated to any medical tourism associations or other commercial entities?

No we are not, we’re an academic based research center and we’re “not for profit” and are not affiliate with any commercial enterprises or associations.  Renee Stephano of the MTA used to be on the board, but not any more.  Over the last eighteen months several members of the board had raised concerns that it was inappropriate for her to be on the board. We conduct research across different regions and countries and work with different medical tourism associations. The board felt the MTA is very aggressive in trying to mark its territory and our board members didn’t want it to be perceived that we could release confidential information to another board member that might be prejudicial and give them biased information that another medical tourism organisations and associations wouldn’t have access to.  So at the end of 2010 board members voted on new bi-laws that which said that the advisory board of the centre should not have a member that is in charge of a medical tourism association because we want to have the ability to seamlessly work with different entities and it not be perceived that our data is going to one source.  We can be affiliated with associations across regions around the world and do joint research with them no one from a medical tourism association can be on our board.

What do you think needs to be researched?

People need to realise that some of the things that are going on in medical tourism are forerunners of other changes in healthcare systems in the developed world. I believe we need to do more research to find out what is going to happen. For example research needs to be done into the emergence of medical hubs and healthcare clusters and that patients are going to have travel internally in their own countries for healthcare as these clusters and hubs develop. As more information is available on medical outcome data, you’re going to see more and more medical travel to specialist areas. If you are not near a specialist area you will go have to travel and I believe this will happen around the world. I suspect we’ll see that healthcare facilities in many rural areas will be non sustainable in the future.



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