Deloitte survey casts shadow on medical tourism


In its second annual study on healthcare trends, Deloitte finds a favourable shift towards intra-bound medical tourism among Americans who would consider seeking treatment in another US city than going abroad.

The results of the “2009 Deloitte Survey of Healthcare Consumers” are vastly different from the previous year’s, which showed that Americans would consider travelling overseas for treatment - particularly if they can achieve 50 percent savings on international-standard healthcare.

In this year’s results, 43 percent of the 4,000 Americans – aged 18 and above – say they are prepared to travel out of their local area to undergo a test, procedure, or treatment if it would cost 50 percent or less than when done in their home city. In fact, eight percent have travelled for care outside of their local community as medical tourists.

However, out of local area does not automatically mean going overseas.

Only one percent say they have gone abroad for treatment, a similar result to 2008. But while last year’s study said 40 percent would consider treatment abroad, the figure plummets to 10 percent for the 2009 survey.

The results for 2009 also vary by category. Among uninsured patients, 20 percent would consider medical tourism. Receptivity to medical tourism is highest among younger adults at 10 percent to 12 percent, compared to only six percent for seniors.

The most surprising low figure is from “baby boomers” at only seven percent, a figure that will disturb hospitals, agencies and self-appointed experts who have long argued that this generation is the key target American market for medical tourism.

Other useful data from the Deloitte study are:

•    As healthcare reform heats up in the White House, nearly 40 percent of US consumers have expressed discontent with the status quo.

•    In addition to skipping or delaying care, the high cost of healthcare is prompting many consumers to switch physicians, prescriptions or health plans to save money.

•    Fifty-three percent would like employers to be required to provide health insurance for employees

•    Thirty-seven percent favour a mandate requiring every American to obtain health insurance either through direct purchase or through an employer or government programme.

The findings suggest that a growing number of consumers wants to be actively engaged. They see variance in service, quality and costs. They are comparing doctors, hospitals, medications, devices, health plans and self remedies. They are exploring alternatives to conventional approaches and spending money to achieve their health goals.

Paul Keckley, who oversaw the report for Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, said: “The current economic climate is taking a toll on American consumers prompting them to increasingly make decisions about healthcare that are married to their pocketbooks.

“Consumers want a bigger say in their healthcare decisions. More than half believe that 50 percent or more of the dollars spent on healthcare in the US are wasted. The time for healthcare reform could not be more pressing.”

For the medical tourism industry there are clear messages.

For every American who has gone overseas for treatment, eight have already become medical tourists within the US. The promise of healthcare reform has cut in half the number of patients who would consider going overseas.

The key target market is not the baby-boomers with time on their hands who can combine overseas medical treatment with a holiday, but younger generations who are time and cost pressed by work and family commitments.

Although one report is not conclusive in itself, it suggests what IMTJ has long-argued: that medical tourism combining holidays with treatment is only a small part of the global medical and health travel business - where people go abroad for a vast range of reasons from complex surgery down to spa treatment.

Countries, agencies and hospitals promoting the beaches, safaris and tourism as equal to the medical treatment, may have to rethink their advertising and marketing if they want business. As cash gets tighter, people go for the treatment, not the tourism. 



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