Growing demand for health services is a global phenomenon, linked to economic development that generates rising incomes and education. Demographic change,
especially the ageing population and older people’s requirements for more medical services, coupled with rising incidence of chronic conditions, also fuel demand for more and better health services. Waiting times and/or the increasing cost of health services at home, combined with the availability of cheaper alternatives in developing countries, has lead new healthcare consumers, or medical tourists, to seek treatment overseas.
This booming growth for medical/health tourism in recent times has had both positive and negative impacts on the global healthcare and on the host nation. Whether health is a motivator to travel or as a contributor to disease transference it can have a great impact on the hospitality and tourism industry. It can influence social, financial, industrial, environmental, business and hospitality sectors in an economy. It’s impact on global healthcare can lead to innovation in healthcare solution, enhancements in healthcare solutions, enhancements in the number of healthcare professional, increased international standards in healthcare solutions and emergence of supporting healthcare infrastructure for example a medical hotel.
A number of tourists are now combining vacation and health care. According to Travel Health Watch (Oct 18, 2010) medical tourism market shows rapid growth. The 2010 Portrait of American Travellers, a study compiled by Harrison Group and Y partnership, found that half of leisure travellers from theU.S.are familiar with the idea of medical tourism. The study also found that the medical tourism market is growing 20 percent each year and leisure travellers will consider having a medical procedure done in a foreign country if they could save some money, the quality is comparable to services provided in the U.S, and/or if their insurance would not cover a particular procedure in the U.S.
In India, health care is one of the largest sectors, in terms of revenue and employment, and this sector is expanding rapidly largely due to health and medical tourists. During the 1990s, the Indian health care sector grew at a compound annual rate of 16%. Today the total value of the sector is more than US$34 billion. By 2012, India’s health care sector is projected to grow to near US$40 billion (PricewaterhouseCoopers 2007).
Medical hotels are also in the rise due to the demand and rapid increase in health care from tourists. Consortiums inSingaporeare investing in medical hotels which will boast a 260-room luxury high-rise connected to the east wing of a new hospital inFarrerPark. The hotel will feature a 500-seat conference hall, indoor and outdoor gardens and a spa, as well as a dialysis machine and other medical equipment for patients who don’t want to stay in the hospital. It will add new meaning to the concept of a healing holiday.
Jetting off to a foreign country for affordable cosmetic surgery has been a popular option for years. But now, pinched by rising health-care costs in developed countries, travellers are going abroad for routine required surgeries and procedures, including colonoscopies and ob-gyn exams. According toButler,Sana, by 2012, experts predict, medical tourism will turn into a $100 billion international industry with more than 780 million patients seeking health care abroad.
Travelling overseas for medical care has historical roots; previously limited to elites from developing countries to developed ones, when health care was inadequate or unavailable at home. Now however, the direction of medical travel is changing towards developing countries, and globalization and increasing acceptance of health services as a market commodity have lead to a new trend; organized medical tourism for fee paying patients, regardless of citizenship, who shop for health services overseas using new information sources, new agents to connect them to providers, and inexpensive air travel to reach their destination.
Health tourists constantly prefer to consult doctors of high repute, whose skills have already benefited patients with similar medical conditions. The enormous need for proficient personnel breeds more specialists who cater to this escalating requirement thus contributing to the economy’s employment. Apart from the physician’s status, a potential foreign medical tourist looks at numerous other aspects of the medical establishment, to which he/she entrusts their wellbeing. As per industry standards, accreditations from authorized bodies are recognized and accepted. Other variations which monitor quality and accountability standards are also improved upon and utilized. National accreditations, which have their own stringent parameters, are also improving upon international standards to meet international patient requirements and expectations.
Dispensation, storage & interpretation of available medical records and data files; a process termed ‘Knowledge Processing’ has made the medical system transparent beyond medical authorities worldwide, to respective patients as well. Prior to the global focus on health tourism, the importance of this process was not felt as keenly as it is today. With the advent of the internet and web conferencing, medical proceedings, subject data and case histories of patients around the world is now available and shared online with doctors operating in any country. It provides them with excellent opportunities to interpret, assimilate, improve, collaborate and enhance the overall health services afforded.
Globalization of medicine has brought the emanation of several other allied international sectors like healthcare insurance, vast selection of tourism getaways, varied choices of travelling and unlimited options for hospitable lodging in the country that one chooses to get treated in. Besides, the banking sector has facilitated advancing of loans, comfortable payback schemes, credit card facilities; easy access to internet payment gateways, abundant foreign currency exchange centres and other painless international banking procedure to help foreign tourists. Such programs have completely ruled out affordability or inaccessibility to capital, as a hindrance to disease alleviation. For many nations obtaining medical visas is now an effortless procedure.
When established as an industry, medical tourism is significantly instrumental in moulding the society of a nation. It contributes not just in terms of enhanced, speedier or affordable healthcare, but also lends itself to infrastructural betterments, more employment opportunities with an increased propensity towards overall wealth creation. In nations that are still in the developing stages, such improvisations pave the way towards industrial growth to cater to the burgeoning demands of the foreign health seekers. A developed nation, on the other hand gains prominence as a popular healthcare destination and people start travelling there for medical attention.
According to Weaver and Lawton (2010) manufacturing industries, foreign investments, business exports, agricultural, mineral products or information technology services, are currently among the most prominent and largest contributors to any nation’s Gross Domestic Products (GDP). Therefore, medical tourism will soon top the charts as a key money grosser, contributing significantly in the GDP for a nation which affords such facilities. As more tourists arrive into the country for cheaper, better and faster remedy for their illnesses, the chances of financial gain is guaranteed.
All medical tourists do not visit a country with the express purpose of a treatment or surgery. They also intend to tour the country’s other historical or natural attractions. This trend is growing as tourists tend to invest the amount they save in healthcare, during sight-seeing. This serves as significant revenue for the tourism industry and forms a portion of total profits of the industry.
Another industry very closely associated with the field of medical science is the pharmaceutical industry. When one undergoes treatment or surgery in one country, they are bound to take over-the-counter drugs sold in the same area. This increases the sale of medicines in a directly proportional manner such that, the number of surgeries or treatment conducted directly adds to the profits of the pharmaceutical company of the country that is a prominent medical tourism destination.
The medical tourism industry is served both by private as well as public sector industries. While the public sector contributes to the overall infrastructure and associated processes like permitting medical visa, clearing foreign passports, facilitating foreign exchange etc; the private sector totally takes over the comfort & hospitality department as well as the healthcare facilities. The kind of medical care and amenities provided by private sector industries is generally far more superior to that offered by government establishments. Under such situations, a public-private partnership tends to equalize profits, adds to overall infrastructural benefits and caters to the needs of the foreign medical tourist, in a balanced manner making the overall procedure smooth, rapid and economical. For example The Indian Ministry of Tourism has started a new category of visas for the medical tourists. These visas called the “M” or medical-visas are valid for one year but can be extended up to three years and are issued for a patient along with a companion.
A country that prospers in the healthcare tourism industry will also experience fewer exits of trained professionals from their home country to a foreign nation availing better employment and financial opportunities which is prevalent in developing countries in Asia,South Americaand South Pacific. Medical professionals are content as they get the required job satisfaction and financial fulfilment even when stationed in their native country.
There are also political advantages as well when one country serves as a major tourism destination for another and there is constant exchange of treatment and revenue between them, the political links between those nations are affected in a positive manner. Stronger bonds between those nations are forged when the host nation and provide the foreign tourists with several amenities besides conducive medical treatment.
Along with the positives there can also be some negatives impacts associated with health tourism. With patient travels; there is significant risk of corresponding bacterial travel. All industry professionals must understand the negative impact of communicable diseases. Hence, good strategies should be developed by global organizations to protect spread of such diseases. Understanding and control is vital for all the countries involved.
.For infrastructural growth, the natural greenery or forest cover of a region is compromised in order to accommodate more buildings, hospital facilities, roads, treatment or diagnostic centres etc. To supplement the above, there is a continuous discharge of polluted air, solid -toxic medical waste, litters of sewage consisting of oil and chemicals. Architectural, noise and visual pollution also has a direct negative impact on the atmosphere.
Health tourism also creates a dearth of local resources like power, food stock, fuel and other unredeemable natural resources, which could already be in short supply within the host country. Water, another non-replenishable natural resource, is commonly misused in hotels, spas and swimming pools through careless personal use by tourists. This not only generates large volumes of waste water but also leads to water shortages and depletion of natural water sources.
With an increased number of health tourists, the hospital/hotel adopts the policy of being paid in accordance to an overseas system. Such a structure, even though economical to a foreigner, tends to be expensive for the native. As a result, all sections of people within a particular nation are not able to take advantage of the advanced treatment options available within the country. This creates a negative impact on the health infrastructure of a country.
Healthcare tourism in most countries runs through private institutions. Currently the private sector in most developed countries accounts for a larger number of surgical procedures, treatment operations, and ultimately in the overall number of patients from all over the globe. Thus the revenue generated by this sector is much greater compared to that generated by the government or the public sector. The uncontrolled growth of the private sector can lead to inequalities and profit imbalance across both sectors.
There are significant chances that many medical tourism hospitals would tap into unethical practices to grab international patients, such as organ transplants, restricted regional treatments or several other medical services which are restricted, regulated or controlled in one region. Legal issues are also likely to rise as the health industry presents unique problems and challenges for both consumers as well as providers.
Both positive and negative impacts of medical tourism on healthcare, economic, social and environmental sectors creates opportunities and challenges for this growing industry which require cohesive collaborative work between various stakeholders.
Medical tourism doesn’t only provide benefits to international patients or health/medical tourists but it extends to a wide spectrum of benefits to many industries such as the healthcare industry, travel and tourism, commercial sector, government relationships, and international accreditation sector. There are also negative impacts medical or health tourism can have by attributing to shortages of scare local resources in energy usage including electrical power, food stock, fuel and other unredeemable natural resources such as water and the resultant environmental issues which needs to be considered and controlled by governments of countries in midst of this global phenomenon.
Butler, S, 2009, ‘Holidays for health’, Newsweek International viewed 26 May 2011, pp.36. Available from: .
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Dr. Prem, J, 2010, ‘Medical tourism impact its more than obvious . Medical Tourism Magazine vol 17, viewed 26 May 2011, Available from: .
Hazarika, I,2009, Medical tourism: its potential impact on the health workforce, Oxford Journals, vol 25, no 3, pp.248 – 251, viewed 26 May 2011.
Mathieson, A and Wall, G, 1982’ ‘Social Impacts’, in Tourism: economic, physical, and social impacts, U.S ed, Longman,London.
McKerchera, B, 1993, ‘Some fundamental truths about tourism: understanding tourism’s social and environmental impacts’ Journal of Sustainable Tourism [online]. viewed 26 May 2011, pp.6 – 16. Available from: .
Otley, T, 2007, ‘Patients without borders: it is now cheaper and easier than ever before for patients to receive good-quality healthcare abroad, but how is this medical tourism affecting the host nations’?(Fit to Fly: Medical travel)’ Business Traveller vol 2 viewed 26 May 2011, pp.36. Available from .
U.S. House, 2007, Market report for Healthcare in India, Government Printing Office,Washington.
Weaver, DB and Lawton, L 2010, ‘Economic impacts of tourism’, in Tourism management, 4th ed, John Wiley,Qld,Australia.
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