Keith Pollard reports on the IMTJ Medical Tourism climate survey

 

IMTJ welcomes comments on the research. Comments may be added at the end of the article.

The Medical Tourism Climate Survey 2010 was funded by the International Medical Travel Journal, the world’s leading journal for the medical travel sector and was completed online by 257 representatives of medical tourism businesses from 55 different countries. A cross section of medical tourism agencies and facilitators, hospitals and business consultants were surveyed with dental treatment, cosmetic surgery and orthopaedic surgery among the most common services provided by respondents.

The survey examines key issues, current activities, the state of the market and predicted business growth including the understanding and perceived impact of EU Cross Border Healthcare and other challenges and opportunities in the medical travel sector today.

The research is not perfect. It is based on the views of 257 individuals and there may be significant areas of sample bias in the research. This bias may result from the geographical spread of the respondents, the type of organisation that they work for and the nature of their interest in medical tourism. But in a medical tourism world that is largely devoid of research it has to be welcomed.

The survey report has been provided free of charge to the 257 respondents. Others may purchase the full survey from IMTJ for €150. Email sales@imtj.com for further details.

The nature of the sample

The USA, India, UK, Hungary and Turkey were the most highly represented in the sample. A wide variety of organisation types were represented: 29.6% of respondents worked for medical tourism agencies and facilitators, 26.3% for hospitals, and 11.3% for consultancy businesses

The survey reflects the fragmented and “small business” nature of the medical tourism sector and its recent development. More than half of the organisations employ less than five people. More than one third of the respondents handle less than 50 medical tourists per year. 22% handle more than 500 medical tourists per year. 63% of the organisations have been in business for more than two years. Around 20% have been in business for less than one year.

Key highlights include:

Leading medical tourism destinations and patient sources

According to medical tourism facilitators the leading medical tourism destinations are India, Thailand, USA, Hungary and Malaysia. The USA, UK and Russian Federation are seen as the leading source of patients both now and in the future. Countries rated as providing the best overall service to patients are Thailand, India, and Singapore.

Respondents predicted that India, Thailand, and Singapore will also be the leading medical tourism destinations in five years time. (Note that the survey was conducted prior to the recent political unrest in Thailand).

Current trends and predictions for growth

There are mixed views about the current market, with over half believing that the market has declined or remained static in the past twelve months.  Around half of the organisations have seen no growth or a decline in their business over the past year although 47% state that their current business situation is good or very good.  A third of respondents report a growth in their medical tourism business of 10% or more last year. The vast majority are confident about future business prospects with 76% expecting the overall market to grow in the next twelve months.

Opportunities

Respondents are most optimistic about the dental and cosmetic surgery markets.  The majority of organisations surveyed have little understanding of the European Union Directive on Patient Mobility but nevertheless believe that the ratification of the Directive will increase the number of medical tourists with Europe.

Challenges

Competition and marketing issues are seen as the major problems facing organisations involved in medical tourism.  Other key issues are:

  • Insufficient demand
  • Insurance and liability issues
  • Lack of quality standards and international standards
  • Lack of professionalism within the industry

Patient Choice

The main factors considered to influence patient choice are:

  • Expertise and qualifications of the doctor/dentist
  • Comments and ratings by other patients
  • Fluency in the patient’s language (English, French and German are the most commonly supported languages within the destination countries).

Summary

As we know, there is a serious lack of research into the size and nature of the medical tourism marketplace. Much of what is believed about the market is based on opinion and hype rather than a sound factual basis. The Medical Tourism Climate Survey 2010 helps to fill that vacuum, provides some insight in to what is happening throughout the world of medical travel today and is a useful tool for planning and strategy for the industry and individual businesses.

What can we conclude about the industry?

Medical tourism, as we know it today, can best be described as an industry in its infancy. It’s a young and developing market that lacks sophistication and direction and is highly fragmented. It has many new entrants and has few, if any, major players.

If there are the “millions of patients” that some people believe, we have to ask where they are in reality. It would appear that they are not in the hospitals, clinics or facilitator businesses being run by the 257 respondents to the survey.

Your views and comments are welcomed. Submit your comments below.

Want a copy of the full report?

The survey report has been provided free of charge to the 257 respondents. Others may purchase the full survey from IMTJ for €150. Email sales@imtj.com for further details.

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