What is Medical Tourism?
Medical Tourism or Health Tourism is the term initially coined by travel agencies and mass media to describe the practice of traveling across international borders to obtain healthcare services. Today medical tourism is a rapidly growing industry that enables people residing in one country to travel to another country to receive medical, dental and surgical care of comparable quality to that available in their home countries for a fraction of the domestic cost. In addition, patients may choose to travel abroad because certain procedures are not available in their home countries, or because the wait is too long (e.g. Canadian cancer patients traveling across the border to the U.S.).
Contrary to popular belief, the concept of medical tourism is not a novel one. The first recorded instance of medical tourism dates back thousands of years to when Greek pilgrims traveled from all over the Mediterranean to the small territory in the Saronic Gulf called Epidauria. Also, Americans have been engaged in medical tourism, although they may not have called it that way. For decades, many Americans have traveled to such acclaimed medical institutions as the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, MD Anderson Hospital in Texas, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, and John Hopkins Hospital in Maryland.
Until recently, on the international scale, patient flow was mainly from less developed countries to developed countries. And not surprisingly, medical tourism to developed countries was a prerogative of the rich and the elite in the developing world. Recently, however, the skyrocketing costs of healthcare and long wait times for certain procedures, combined with the growing ease and affordability of international travel and tremendous improvements in both technology and standards of medical care in many countries began to change the face of medical tourism. In fact, the mechanism behind the growth of medical tourism was explained by Adam Smith in his monumental work The Wealth of Nations in 1776. According to Adam Smith, a country will “specialize in the manufacture and export of products [services] that can be produced most efficiently in that country.” Essentially, when we talk about medical tourism we are simply talking about outsourcing in the healthcare sector.