The colonial heritage of New Zealand’s medical tourism


The most common procedures for New Zealanders travelling to Australia or Asia are dentistry, heart surgery, hip and knee replacements, and cosmetic surgery.

The Internet allows well off and medium earning New Zealanders to easily find out about and access treatment overseas.

Medical professionals in New Zealand complain about the lack of professional care given to patient travellers before, and especially after, surgery. But are these claims justified, or is just normal professional moaning?

Kirsten Lovelock is a researcher at Otago University in New Zealand. She has conducted several research projects on outbound medical tourism.

The latest project held in-depth interviews with New Zealanders who had returned from medical treatment overseas.

Patients were asked how they researched and prepared for the procedure, how it went, how they were cared for, and how much it cost.

Lovelock asks, “The question for New Zealanders travelling abroad is are they really giving informed consent when they have these serious procedures done overseas?"

She is also concerned about the wider issue of how medical tourism contributed to the two-tier system, at home and in India, Malaysia and Thailand. She says, “ They have state-of-the-art hospitals and technical competency, but they are catering for their own elite as well as the elite from abroad. While New Zealanders may be getting a cut-price operation, many local people are not getting even the most basic health care.”

While she has been very free with opinions and word of mouth examples of heart surgery or cosmetic surgery that went abroad, the research results are still awaited.

Lovelock concludes,“ The way New Zealanders express care that they have experienced abroad mirrors all sorts of inequalities that are part of our colonial heritage.



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