What drives medical tourism: New report from the Economist Intelligence Unit

 

A new report from the Economist Intelligence Unit ’Travelling for health: the potential for medical tourism’, has some surprising results when it looks at what is behind the growth of the medical tourism industry, and which destination countries it thinks will benefit most.

The report also looks at the US, where it predicts that the US healthcare reforms – despite meaning that more Americans will have healthcare insurance – will encourage medical tourism, as hard-pressed companies and insurers look for cheaper treatment options in an attempt to keep down premiums; but to a much more limited extent than other trade estimates have suggested.

Overall, the report concludes that low costs, as well as medical expertise, are becoming the main drivers of the industry but there are other important factors:
•    Global technology means that the internet enables patients to research options beyond national boundaries.
•    Budget airlines with low fares make foreign travel more affordable.
•    Trade liberalization means that consumers are getting used to seeking services outside their home country.
•    Increasing foreign investment has built modern hospitals in many countries.
•    The internationalization of the medical workforce means that many doctors and nurses get overseas experience before returning home.
•    Internationalization of medical accreditation makes it easier to compare hospitals.
•    The rise of hundreds of medical tourism agencies offering services to healthcare travellers.

The report assesses data from 60 countries to pinpoint which countries offer the best combination of the factors that drive medical tourism. These factors are medical expertise, low costs, and a secure environment.

A surprise at the top of the ranking is France, which has a tiny medical tourism industry at present but has the specialist care and business environment to succeed.
Second place goes to Mexico although concerns over the economy and drugs wars may mean it will not reach its full potential. In third place is the USA, often negelected as a major destination. Taiwan, with its huge potential for Chinese visitors is fourth, and Germany is sixth. Three of the top six have are high cost destinations: France, Germany and the USA. Poland in fifth place and Bulgaria in seventh, score highly due to low cost. Sweden and Belgium are also in the top 10.

A number of developing countries also came near the top of the rankings, by offering a combination of medical expertise and low costs. India will benefit from growing wealth levels, but has fragmented and widely dispersed healthcare and medical markets with no national focus. Although the report rates China as having high potential, it warns that healthcare quality is patchy and there will be language problems. Greece has potential but economic meltdown could cause major problems.

The report suggests that many countries are well placed to develop medical tourism that will create much-needed healthcare jobs and expertise, as well as generating revenues. But it warns that to make the most of this opportunity, governments and private companies will need to work together to ensure that the benefits from medical tourism trickle down to the wider population. The industry will also need to develop consistent hospital accreditation and legal frameworks, so that patients can be sure that they will receive the standard of care they were expecting.

The conclusions of the report are a warning for some of the countries trying to enter the global medical tourism market…not every country can succeed in becoming a major medical tourism destination. Some will be derailed by their economy, some by local politics and internal security problems, some by a lack of healthcare skills and systems, some by lack of government support, and others by a poor tourism infrastructure.

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