How have to travel is being replaced by wanting to travel


A recent LinkedIn discussion started by a frequent poster was titled: “Medical tourism: A global stampede for affordable care”. The discussion goes on: “As health costs skyrocket, Western travellers are getting comfortable with "foreign doctors" and much cheaper procedures.”

Well, what can I say? A self-defeating prophecy is a prediction that will not “pan out”… exactly because it was made public. This is also known as the "prophet's dilemma".

Prophecies are in fact “alarms”, and as soon as an alarm sounds, people take action (to stop what set the alarm off). A self-defeating prophecy is often the result of “rebellion” or objection to what the prophecy indicates will happen.

Once they are made public, prophecies can be “frustrated” by the counter measures taken by those whose interests the prophecy threatens. Maybe, one way to ensure that something does not happen is to prophesize it?

The fallacy of the “virtues of medical travel”

“Have To” Medical Travel (because of inefficiencies in a domestic healthcare systems) as opposed to “Want To” Medical Tourism (patients making an unqualified free choice) needs to be seen for what it is. It is a necessity. Presenting it as anything else just does not wash.

The sum total of the reasons for the existence of “have to” medical travel can be represented by the word “inefficiencies”. In healthcare systems, these take the form of:

  •     High cost
  •     Long waiting lists
  •     Legal obstacles to obtaining certain treatments
  •     Lack of expertise or technology
  •     Absence of anonymity

But we need to be reminded that as soon as inefficiencies are discovered, someone will rush to deal with them and benefit in the process.

False prophets... and the vendors of medical tourism pipe dreams

Misinformation and industry hype are harmful because they generate false hope amongst new and aspiring industry players who form the impression that they can now easily become rich by joining the medical tourism industry and addressing the market. Industry studies which are compiled from “internet data trawling” are likewise harmful, misinforming and misleading; many who look to them for guidance and advice regard them as gospel truth. Nevertheless, many are drawn in by the hype.

Even sub-Saharan countries are being attracted by it. Just as there are interests pushing for “treatment abroad” there are interests pushing to “keep them at home”. As anticipated (if not prophesized), the “West’s Revenge” is taking hold even in a number of sub-Saharan nations. Source countries will (eventually) become destinations themselves. Yes, this is known as a “self-fulfilling” prophecy.

It is simplistic to believe that inefficiencies will persist. Inefficiencies have a tendency to be self- correcting, sooner or later and usually sooner. Financial traders know this very well.

Medical travel = arbitrage

Medical travel is, in essence, all about trade. Arbitrage is a form of trade that profits by exploiting price – or other - differences of identical or similar assets which in the case of medical travel means services. Much of what we, today, call medical travel is all about arbitrage. That is, benefitting by exploiting differences.

Arbitrage is about exploiting inefficiencies. But once inefficiencies are discovered, someone will act to disrupt and stop them. And this is why arbitrage opportunities constantly change “location”.

So, will medical travel come to a standstill?

…no, but the motivations will change. (See: The changing motivations and incentives for medical travel).

I am observing a phenomenon – I am not prophesising!


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