Keith Pollard talks on why infertility tourism could be recession proof

 

Many medical tourism businesses are feeling the pinch of the recession. The economic downturn is affecting healthcare spending in the same way that it has affected consumer spending in other sectors. In many countries, the number of “self pay” patients (who are paying out of their own pocket for healthcare) has decreased.  In the UK, we know that the self pay market whether it is expenditure on elective surgery such as knee or hip replacement or discretionary spend on cosmetic surgery is significantly down; private hospitals are seeking NHS work to fill their beds. The financial pressure on consumers and their discretionary healthcare spend is significant which means less paying patients whether they are domestic patients or medical travellers.

So, there are less medical tourists around and increasing competition for these patients. But are there segments of the medical tourism market that are going against the trend?

Infertility treatment is one area of healthcare that is relatively recession proof; patients are reluctant to delay treatment, and will stretch their financial resources to pay for treatment. A recent paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Rome highlights the growth of “infertility tourism”

The article, “Cross border reproductive care in six European countries” provides a review of inbound infertility tourism to six European countries receiving patients - Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Slovenia, Spain and Switzerland. Data was collected from 46 centres in these countries. Patients came from 49 different countries, but almost two thirds came from only four countries - Italy (31.8%), Germany (14.4%), The Netherlands (12.1%) and France (8.7%).

Drivers of infertility tourism

Why are these infertile couples crossing borders for infertility treatment? It varies from country to country but the main driver is the law on infertility treatments within the home country. This is the predominant reason for patients coming from Italy, France, Germany, Norway and Sweden. Italian law banned sperm donation in 2004; German law bans egg donation; in France, assisted conception for single women or same sex couples is illegal and there is a ban on advertising for egg donors; regulation regarding donor anonymity affect Scandinavians and British patients; some countries have regulations that limit reimbursement of assisted conception to a maximum age.; some countries have legal limits on the amount that can be paid to donors thus reducing availability of sperm and eggs.

Difficulties in accessing treatment at home were a driver for a third of UK patients, and a wish for “anonymous” donation was expressed by around one in five patients.  There’s also some indication of specific cross border flows: Italians favour Switzerland and Spain, the Germans prefer Czech Republic, the Dutch and French opt for Belgium.  18.3% of patients were looking for semen donation, 22.8% for egg donation and 3.4% for embryo donation.

A market opportunity for medical tourism businesses?

The study estimated that “a minimum estimated number of 11 000–14 000 patients per year” visits the six countries in the study; it may well be much higher than this.

If you’re in the medical tourism business, download the paper; it’s a useful insight into the opportunities in infertility tourism and to the kind of patients that seek it..... which should be a major influence on your marketing. Understanding your market is key to the success of any medical tourism business.

Running a healthcare web publishing business, I’m obviously interested in the role that the internet has to play in infertility tourism. It’s interesting to see how countries differ in their use of the internet for information on infertility tourism. According to the study, the internet was a frequent source of information about infertility treatment abroad in Sweden (73.6%), Germany (65.0%) and the UK (58.5%).

The good news for my business ...... a Google UK search for “infertility treatment abroad” brings up Treatment Abroad at number 1 and our other sites in positions 2, 3, 4, 6 and 10 in the top ten Google UK results!

The good news for medical tourism businesses .... infertility tourism is going against the overall trends in the medical tourism market  and could provide a worthwhile opportunity for both the short and long term.

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