New Australasian medical tourism association

 

The Australasian Medical and Dental Tourism Association is a new medical tourism association for Australia and New Zealand. It is the first and only organisation in Australia to standardize the quality of medical tourism delivered by professional agencies. More details of how it wants to make local agencies more professional, and a website are coming soon.

Australia and New Zealand face the usual problem of whether or not a medical tourism agent is a travel agent or tour operator for purposes of the local law. There are plans to deregulate travel agencies and tour operators in Australia. Local legal cases differentiate between travel agencies and tour operators, and between inbound and outbound travel.

A recent decision of the Federal Court of Australia ATS Pacific Pty Ltd v Commissioner of Taxation [2013] FCA 341 (15 April 2013) raises significant issues for sellers of packaged tours. The court found that a term could be implied into the contract between the entity selling the package and the travel agent purchasing it and that this in turn means that the agent passed on that promise to the customer, so could not argue that all it provided was booking and arranging services.     

Taking this logic further, it means that any agent could be held responsible for non-performance by the end service provider such as a hotelier or hospital. What is not clear is if the logic applies as much to travellers going from Australia as to travellers going to Australia.

Greg Morling of the Australasian Medical and Dental Tourism Association explains, “In Australasia the preferred destination for medical procedures is Thailand. The medical tourism sector here has been an area of controversy for several years with little benchmarking, standards or regulation. This has now changed and we have set ethical standards and standards of practice for the industry here. There are cowboys who have given agencies with integrity a bad name. Some of these are travel agents making a quick buck by tacking on some surgery as part of their client's travel arrangements. Medical tourism agencies should be treated as specialised tour operators, not travel agents.”

While most Australasian medical tourism is outbound, there is a small amount of inbound. In New Zealand’s Queenstown, a stem cell centre for locals and medical tourists aims to be operating by the start of 2014.The target market is sportsmen and osteoarthritis suffers, with a view to later treating multiple sclerosis and diabetes. It will be an extension of Queenstown Regenerative Medicine; a specialist plasma treatment centre; -and collaboration between Marcelle Noble and Dr Peter Britton, Dr John Flynn of the Gold Coast in Australia and Professor Richard Boyd, director of immunology and stem cell laboratories at Monash University in Melbourne.

Marcelle Noble is the owner of Queenstown Regenerative Medicine and says that the purpose-built centre is dependent on funding by private investors. Queenstown would be the only centre in New Zealand to offer both plasma and stem cell therapy.

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