Could the diaspora kick-start medical travel?


Medical tourism has been hit hard from this pandemic. Certain countries will be prone to their decreased reputation as “safe” destinations. Medical travellers may be more reluctant to travel to countries with less developed healthcare systems, due to their fears of possibly contiguous infections. Will new strategies for targeting medical travellers emerge?

Working on the diasporic dimension of medical travel/tourism, Mathijsen and Mathijsen have recently published a scoping review of quantitative and qualitative evidence of diasporic medical tourism (DMT) in Globalization & Health. This diasporic segment of medical tourism may become a promising avenue for rebuilding patient business, given that for some home countries the diaspora is perceived as a resource.  Indeed, in certain countries diasporic medical travellers account for a significant part of all medical travellers, namely in Colombia, Guatemala, India, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Malta, Mexico, the Philippines, and Turkey (Connell, 2011; Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, 2008; Glinos, Baeten, Helble & Maarse, 2010; Snyder et al., 2016). Few countries even expressly built their medical tourism campaigns directed to that group of patients: Cuba, India, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, South Korea, and the region of Taiwan. 

Diasporic medical travellers are defined by Mathijsen and Mathijsen (2020) as “migrants travelling to their country of origin (homeland) and voluntarily using the healthcare there as an act which is planned and/or organized upfront”. Those travellers were described as ‘pendular patients’ (Bell et al., 2015) given that they participated simultaneously in multiple healthcare systems (of origin and of residence). 

The research showed that DMT was promoted and advertised via ethnic networks and community media e.g. to the Filipinos living in the U.S. or to the South Koreans living in the United States and Canada. It was also demonstrated that internet, word-of-mouth (WOM) and strength of national brand influenced diasporic decisions.  ‘National health stories’ contributed to the construction of perceived medical expertise of the country (Mathijsen, 2019). 

As to the size of DMT, Mathijsen and Mathijsen (2020) analysed the data only from the robust quantitative research. In Northern America, the research was mostly conducted among Mexican populations, with one exception of South Koreans in Canada. The estimated percent of diasporic medical travellers varied significantly, yet the median was relatively high (35%). For the data in Europe, the estimated percentages of DMT population didn’t vary extensively among the countries, with a relatively low median of 10%. Yet, the data suggested that there were two groups of results for European populations (for further details, see the Globalization & Health article).  

As for the motivational factors of diasporic medical tourism, Mathijsen & Mathijsen (2020) details the importance of the most frequently enumerated factors: medical culture, time availability (“by the way of being home”), communication, dissatisfaction with the current system, healthcare insurance status, quality of healthcare, second opinion, and value for money. Those factors were listed in the order of frequency of occurrence in the research papers analysed in their scoping review. The cultural dimension of healthcare was once more emphasised. Also, the role of comparative knowledge was underlined. Diasporic medical tourists generally used healthcare services while conducting their return visits to home countries (also known as VFR – visiting friends and relatives trips).  

The current global pandemic has forced all industries to reconsider and develop strategies of how to bounce back after the shock. This applies especially to the travel sector. A few countries are still working during the pandemic to maintain the awareness of their destinations. i.e. Visit Britain or Discover Puerto Rico. [2] Some evidence suggests that people are still hoping to have their holidays this year, and are searching and booking for later on in this year. [3] 

The diaspora travellers continue to go back to their countries of origin even when the situation in the country is not very stable (Snyder et al., 2016). They are also appreciated as ‘early adopters’ by their eagerness for testing services and passing on their experiences to people around them in resident countries (Ormond, 2014; Snyder et al., 2016). Maybe in these times of instability, for certain countries, diasporic medical tourism will be the first segment to bounce back?

About the authors:

Aneta Mathijsen is a PhD student in Management at the Collegium of World Economy, Warsaw School of Economics (SGH), Poland. She holds an MSc in Marketing and an MRes in International Relations. She is currently working on health-related projects in the EU context. Previously, she worked on global health diplomacy (UK, Belgium, and Uganda), and in strategic marketing for profit(P&G, Coca Cola, Bvlgari) and non-profit organisations. Her main research interests are in medical tourism/travel, diasporic tourism/travel, motivational theories, personalised medicine, and the commodification of health care. [email protected]

Dr. Francois P. Mathijsen has a PhD in Psychology and MSc in Management and International Relations. He is a lecturer in Psychology at the Department of Aggregation at the ICHEC Brussels Management School, Belgium. His main research interests are cognitive psychology and the interplay between emotion and cognition. In 2010 he identified and described the hermit crab syndrome. His latest book: «Les jeunes, le cerveau et le paranormal. Le syndrome du bernard-l’ermite» was published by Les Presses Universitaires de Louvain. 


  1. Bell, D., Holliday, R., Ormond, M., &  Mainil, T. (2015). Introduction. Transnational healthcare, cross-border perspectives. Social Science & Medicine, 124, 284-289. DOI:
  2. Connell J. Medical travel. Wallingford, Oxfordshire: CAB International; 2011.
  3. Deloitte Center for Health Solutions (2008). Medical travel: consumers in search of value. Retrieved April 5, 2018 from
  4. Glinos, I.A., Baeten, R., Helble, M., & Maarse, H. (2010). A typology of cross-border patient mobility. Health & Place, 16(6), 1145-1155. DOI:
  5. Mathijsen, A. (2019). Home, sweet home? Understanding diasporic medical tourism behaviour. Exploratory research of Polish immigrants in Belgium. Tourism Management, 72, 373-385. DOI:
  6. Snyder, J., Crooks, V.A., Johnson, R., Ceron, A., & Labonte, R. (2016).  ̋That’s enough patients for everyone ! ̋: Local stakeholders’ view on attracting patients into Barbados and Guatemala’s emerging medical tourism sector. Globalization and Health, 12:60, 1-13. DOI:


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