Top 5 Countries for Medical Tourism
Medical tourism is becoming a burgeoning industry, with countries in Europe, Asia, and South America all finding large success with offering medical care to people from other countries. Some look for care outside their native home because of cost, while other medical tourists are immigrants who return to their home country for care.
Additionally, many of these countries offer more than simply medical care; they bundle the experience with other comforts, including interesting tourism opportunities and spa-like amenities.
According to Patients Beyond Borders, approximately 900,000 Americans went outside the U.S. to find medical treatment last year and the number has been rising consistently over the last decade. But medical tourism is not limited to America. Patients Beyond Borders details that nearly 8 million patients from around the world seek overseas treatment contributing to a global industry valued at somewhere between $20 billion and $40 billion.
Expatriates who are not overseas with a large multinational company often lack the resources of a large company when it comes to supporting healthcare, so it only makes sense that they seek other options.
The most common procedures that people undergo on medical tourism trips include cosmetic surgery, dentistry (general, restorative, cosmetic), and heart surgery. Other health care services that register large include orthopedics (joint and spine; sports medicine); cancer (often high-acuity or last resort); reproductive (fertility, IVF, women’s health); weight loss (LAP-BAND, gastric bypass); scans, tests, health screenings and second opinions.
Here’s a look at five popular medical tourism destinations:
With more than half a million medical tourists coming to the country each year, Malaysia ranks as one of the most health care-friendly spots for those looking to find help outside of their home country. Americans are attracted to the country’s large English-speaking population and strong infrastructure.
Malaysia’s medical tourism industry beefed up as a way to diversify its economy during the Asian financial crisis.
Malaysian hospitals are known for being big players in vitro fertilization at a price that’s 20 percent less than many other western facilities. Physicals and blood work that might cost upwards of thousands of dollars in the U.S. are also substantially cheaper. Malaysia’s hospitals are also known for their sophisticated treatment for burn victims. In fact, Prince Court Medical Center in Kuala Lumpur was ranked as the number-one hospital for “patients without borders” by the Medical Travel Quality Alliance.
A recent report from Deloitte forecasts that India’s medical tourism market will grow to nearly $4 billion, doubling what it was just three years ago. According to Patients Beyond Borders, of the 250,000 international patients, the majority head to cities like Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai and New Delhi.
One of the reasons for such a strong growth is that a number of patients are coming from surrounding countries that offer far less developed health care, such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar. Many people from other regions such as Africa, the Middle East, Canada and the U.S. are finding the cost savings too hard to pass up in India. For example, the Medical Tourism Resource Guide shows a heart valve costs about $15,000 in India, versus $150,000 in the U.S.
Popular treatments in India consist of those for fertility, orthopedic, cardiac and oncology problems and organ transplants.
The beautiful lands of Turkey are a welcoming spot for American-trained doctors, who have helped the country become one of the favorite destinations of patients from Europe and the U.S.
The top procedures here include cardiac, cancer and orthopedic care. The country has also established itself as one of the leading places in the world for eye treatments — especially laser surgery, which costs approximately $1,100 for both eyes.
Turkey’s Dünyagöz Hospitals Group runs several eye centers in the country and is a popular choice for foreign patients, with nearly 30,000 medical tourists from 100 countries coming by.
For people looking for a cheap option for cosmetic surgery, Brazil is one of the top destinations in the world.
According to Patients Beyond Borders, approximately 200,000 foreign travelers went to Brazil last year for cosmetic procedures. The cost savings is extreme, with prices about 30-50 percent below what American doctors would charge for treatment.
Brazil has long been known for its Ivo Pitanguy Clinic in Rio de Janeiro, which has performed probably more cosmetic surgery operations than any other place in the world.
Another country known for its cosmetic surgery is Thailand, where for 20 years, Bangkok’s Bumrungrad International Hospital has been treating foreign patients. According to Patients Beyond Borders, up to 1.2 million patients came to the clinic last year alone.
Bumrungrad International employs more than 900 physicians across 55 specialties and treats more than 1,000 international patients every day. According to The Medical Tourism Research Guide, more than 30,000 Americans visit the country each year for medical treatments.
Of course, these are just some of the countries that are popular destinations for medical tourism. In addition, Mexico, Jordan, and Colombia are also common for medical tourism as millions of patients travel overseas in search of medical care.
Finally, be sure wherever you are going is JCI (Joint Commission International) approved, which identifies, measures, and shares best practices in quality and patient safety with the world. The Joint Commission launched its international accreditation program in 1999 in response to increased interest in accreditation and quality improvement worldwide. Its standards are based on international consensus standards and set uniform, achievable expectations for structures, processes and outcomes for hospitals.
JCI accreditation can help international health tourism organizations, public health agencies, health ministries and others evaluate, improve and demonstrate the quality of patient care in their nations.
Now, if you do plan to travel to another country for health care, be sure to visit a travel medicine practitioner at least a month before making the trip to discuss specific risks related to the procedure and travel before for a consultation and after the procedure for any follow-up.
Make sure to find out if your health insurance covers medical tourism. If you are traveling abroad for a short period of time, learn tips on how to choose the best short-term travel medical plan.