Medical tourism in the delivery of healthcare in the United States is the term for traveling abroad in order to receive healthcare (CDC, 2018). The definition of medical tourism can be restricted to patients who are deliberately seeking non-emergency healthcare services in a country other than their own (Johnston, Crooks, Snyder, & Kingsbury, 2010). In recent years, medical tourism has become a lucrative industry and is growing in popularity. Medical tourism is also an industry that attracts patients from foreign countries to come to the United States to seek healthcare. Therefore, the medical tourism industry is a two-way street, with travelers leaving the United States, and travelers coming to the United States.
Reasons for medical tourism. The reasons that people choose to leave their home country in order to find healthcare in foreign countries are many. One of the main reasons that people partake in medical tourism is that they are able to find healthcare services that are more affordable than would have been in their own country (CDC, 2018). Some medical tourists are actually returning to their native country because they have immigrated to the United States and they prefer to receive treatment in their home country (CDC, 2018). Another popular reason that people leave the United States for healthcare is that there are procedures that are not yet approved in the United States but are available in foreign countries (CDC, 2018). Another fundamental reason that people travel to obtain healthcare, even at their own cost, is that their insurance does not cover the particular procedure that they need in their own country (Chambers, 2015).
Economic impact of medical tourism. The economic impact of medical tourism is evidenced in how public resources are allocated and also in the loss, (or gain) of revenue in the medical industry (Johnston et al., 2010). When a patient seeks healthcare from another country, there is a loss of revenue in the industry in their own country. Conversely, when a patient travels to a country to seek healthcare, there is a gain in revenue in that country. Therefore, there have been incentives that foreign countries provide in order to attract medical tourism and to gain revenue. Methods of attracting medical tourism are evident in the way that countries are developing specialized hospitals that specifically cater to foreign patients (Chambers, 2015). India has developed a specific visa for medical tourism known as the M visa (Chambers, 2015).
Dangers of medical tourism. There are dangers associated with medical tourism; when a patient leaves their home country they are no longer protected by the laws and standards of their country. Depending on the country that is visited, there are specific risks such as receiving counterfeit medication, being unable to communicate with one’s healthcare provider in a common language, and there may be issues with antibiotic resistances (CDC, 2018). Furthermore, there are increased risks for developing blood clots during one’s recovery should one fly shortly after surgery (CDC, 2018).
Medical tourism in the delivery of healthcare is a phenomenon that is growing due to many factors: insurance barriers, the accessibility of certain procedures, affordability of procedures, and preference for one’s native country. Because of the economic impact, there are many countries that cater to medical tourists and provide incentives to place healthcare in foreign hands. The Unites States loses economic benefits when citizens opt to find healthcare elsewhere, however, there are economic benefits when foreigners travel to the United States as medical tourists. Standards of care differ across borders and create dangers in medical tourism. Whatever the catalyst is for the individual medical tourist, the fact is that an increasing number of patients are seeking healthcare on foreign shores.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2018). Medical tourism. U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/features/medicaltourism/index.html
- Chambers, A. (2015). Trends in U.S. health travel services trade. USITC Executive Briefing on Trade. Retrieved from https://www.usitc.gov/publications/332/executive_briefings/chambers_health-related_travel_final.pdf
- Johnston, R., Crooks, V. A., Snyder, J., & Kingsbury, P. (2010). What is known about the effects of medical tourism in destination and departure countries? A scoping review. International Journal for Equity in Health, 9, (24). doi.org/10.1186/1475-9276-9-24