What is Medical Tourism?
Medical tourism (also known as medical travel or global healthcare) is the process
in which a patient travels to another destination for medical or health and wellness
services. Oftentimes these services can take the form of a dental treatment, knee
surgery, health check-up or even a trip to a wellness spa. The term medical tourism
may sound strange and exotic to some people; but in fact it is a rapidly growing
phenomenon spurred on by an increasingly empowered patient base searching for quality,
affordability, availability, and accessibility in healthcare.
Some people have the
erroneous impression that patients are flying for open heart surgery to a dilapidated
jungle clinic in some third world country - followed by bungee jumping. The opposite
is true. Most patients are receiving care in high-end hospitals or clinics located
in major urban centers, and will plan their trip to allow enough time for a prudent
recuperation period before heading home.
The term medical tourism is often used in the context of patients traveling abroad
for medical care to countries such as Mexico, Costa Rica, India, Thailand and Singapore
- and this is certainly true. However, not all medical tourism is offshore based.
Domestic Medical tourism
Domestic medical tourism – whereby individuals or employees travel across the country
for medical care – has been growing steadily over the past few years. Although driven
in part by individuals seeking low cost surgeries, the trend toward domestic medical
tourism is being led by employers and insurers whose primary focus is quality.
Typically, an employer will contract directly with high quality centers of excellence.
These are hospitals that specialize in certain procedures and can therefore offer
better outcomes at a lower price than can be found locally. By steering workers
to facilities with high-quality care and lower prices, employers can reduce their
costs 20% to 40% — more than enough to cover the travel expenses. To encourage workers
to use the program, employers often waive deductibles and cover their travel and
Employers with domestic travel programs save money in part by negotiating a single
rate, which includes fees for surgeons, anesthesiologists and all medical care up
until the patient is discharged. But there are other benefits. Referring employees
to a center of excellence has also been shown to reduce medical complications, surgical
reinterventions and recovery times, allowing employees to return to work quicker.
Hospitals benefit by getting paid up front and increasing patient volume.
Although domestic medical tourism is still only a small slice of the medical tourism
pie, its recent implementation by several high profile companies can only help its
growth in the coming years.
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