The medical tourism industry is finally showing signs of settling in as a reasonable health care option. Here are three trends that are steering the industry in this direction and will affect medical travel choices on an individual level and in policy decisions.
Yet other trends indicate there are still major issues to be addressed before medical tourism will be viewed as more than a curiosity.
1. Medical tourism goes mainstream
Maggie Smith plays a medical traveler in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a delightful movie that pokes gentle fun at British baby boomers and retirees. Smith’s character, Muriel Donnelly, flies to India for a hip replacement at the suggestion of her surgeon.
Dr. Ghujarapartidar, her British surgeon, in fiction, plants a seed for a new reality and perhaps a new policy direction for the National Health Service:
Dr. Ghujarapartidar: There is another way. Our hospital trust is funding a new pilot scheme, that will enable us to out-source you to another hospital, where they can perform the procedure almost immediately, and at a fraction of the cost.
Muriel: Is it local?
Dr. Ghujarapartidar: That depends on how you define local.
Unlike the outcome in Foreign Body, Robin Cook’s recent medical mystery novel that portrays a darker side of medical tourism in India, Muriel’s surgery and rehab go well. In fact, so well that she ultimately decides to stay on in Rajasthan.
Dr. Ghujarapartidar: How is the hip feeling?
Muriel: They must have got lucky.
Dr. Ghujarapartidar: It’s strange. The more operations they perform, the luckier they get.
The movie has become one of the sleeper hits of 2012, grossing over $150 million around the world and nominated for many international film awards. A sequel is planned. We know many dramatic real life stories that would make for an interesting television series.
2. More medical tourism services, clinics, hospitals become certified
2013 will see a growing number of hospitals, clinics, doctors, facilitators and other medical tourism service providers seek certification of one sort or another.
After years of debate over certification, accreditation and otherwise regulation of the medical tourism industry, at least five different bodies around the world now offer medical tourism certification of one sort or another.
Each has a different philosophy and outlook on medical tourism and this is reflected in the nature and quality of the certification award. Some issue certification for only hospitals or only doctors. MTQUA medical tourism certification involves all services and providers in the medical tourism chain, from brokers and agents to hospitals, clinics and facilitators, even hotels and air line companies, ensuring medical travelers of a safe, coordinated, high quality process from start to finish.
3. Professional credentials cross borders
Credentials of doctors and medical specialists in the European Union have been recognized across borders since 2005, giving these health care professionals the ability to practice their trade in other EU countries.
In Canada, doctors may soon be able to cross provincial borders and practice in any province in the country. In 2015, the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will become an economic union and health care professionals, from doctors to nurses, will have a similar ability to practice across borders in ASEAN countries.
Medical “free trade zones” are on the drawing boards in several countries outside the EU and ASEAN. Increasingly, a common feature is the recognition and acceptance of medical qualifications no matter in which country doctors are licensed to practice.
Curiously, U.S. doctors still can’t cross state borders to practice in another state unless they are licensed by that state.
4. Pricing is more chaotic
Comparing the cost of a treatment over several medical destinations is difficult. A medical traveler must often accept vague assurances of treatment prices and false promises of cost savings. This pricing chaos will increase because world-wide more second-tier hospitals and clinics and more second-rate dentists and doctors charge premium prices while promising high quality results to the unwitting independent medical traveler.
5. More attention is paid to public safety of medical destinations
With conflicts in the Middle East and Africa not abating, and drug cartel wars continuing in Mexico, independent medical travelers will be more cautious about where to travel for health care. Medical tourism to Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel will likely be most affected in 2013. Some cities in Mexico where gun violence continues to be a threat to the general population will not be favored medical destinations.
In any case, medical travelers, whether they go for treatment to a dangerous city or not, are advised to hire a medical travel facilitator or care manager in that city who can provide complete health care management services including public safety.
What other trends in medical tourism do you foresee for the coming year?