Medical tourism - which is the best destination
what is Medical tourism
Medical tourism or health tourism is a term that has been made popular by the travel agencies and the media to refer to the practice of people travelling to other countries to receive medical aid and attention. This practice of medical tourism is not new. From ages immemorial, people have travelled large distances to get medical attention or go to natural spas, baths and thermals springs for health benefits. However, medical tourism has become increasingly popular with the advancement in technology. It now takes just a few hours or days to reach even the farthest corners of the world. This has made it easy for people to seek the best of healthcare anywhere in the world; all they need are the resources and the time. The health care industry, like the other industries, is becoming increasingly globalised. Like any other industry, this industry also outsources its work to other countries to benefit from the low cost of services, while maintaining the prescribed standards. When industries could freely gain from the effects of globalisation, why should not the customer make good use of the health services that are available to him and that are within his reach? It is no wonder that medical tourism or health tourism is becoming increasingly popular.
Why medical tourism?
Healthcare in some of the developed countries is highly expensive. People are also waitlisted for months before they receive medical attention. This is good reason for people to look beyond their shores in countries that could provide health care, not only at competitive costs but also promptly. Health care professional especially doctors, surgeons and nurses from countries such as India, Philippines, etc. are pretty well known in any part of the world. People are quite comfortable with a huge number of Indian nurses and doctors taking care of them in any hospital from which they seek medical services. The level of comfort and the ability to communicate without barriers has put some countries and their services at a higher level of preference over the others. Some countries also offer great services in alternative medicine which are popular with travellers from the west. Yoga, Ayurvedic treatments, holistic treatments naturopathy, aromatherapy etc. seem to attract people from all over the world to seek such services in India.
I believe the word ‘medical tourism’ by itself is a misnomer. Except for a small category of people most individuals who are travelling to seek medical attention, most of them are not going into a country as a tourist but with serious medical ailments. For those people who are not seeking healthcare for major health problems, medical tourism doubles up as a exotic holiday and a time to get a tummy tuck or cosmetic dental procedure done at a cheaper rate. Some studies suggest that people do get to save a decent amount of money through medical tourism, despite grabbing a holiday. Though initially the industry had supplied figures that were exaggerated, customers still feel that they have a got a good deal from travelling abroad for medical services.
Countries that are popular for medical tourism
Most people from developed countries are looking at the third world countries for their medical services and Asian countries seem to be quite popular. The major number of people who look for healthcare facilities outside their regions are from USA, UK and Canada.
Among people who search for medical services on medical tourism sites, Asia seems to be most popular with India ranking first followed by Thailand and Philippines. Countries like Mexico and Cuba were also quite high on the list because of their close proximity to the US. Mexico shares a border with US and Cuba is just a short flight away from Florida. These two countries are pretty popular with the American medical tourists. Hungary emerges as the top medical tourism destination in Europe where the cost of medical services is pretty high. The languages that are spoken in Hungary also make it easier for the European traveller to land there for medical treatment.
Procedures that are most sought in India by medical tourist
Statistics seem to show that majority of people seeking health services in India do not come for small or cosmetic procedures. Initially, the industry had believed that this would be a major source of income, statistics have shown that cosmetic surgery accounts for a very minor portion of medical tourism to India. Majority of the medical tourists who have travelled to India came here for coronary artery bypass surgeries, bone marrow transplants, hip resurfacing surgeries, colonoscopy, LASIK and In-vitro fertilization. Treatment for obesity and dental procedures have also seen demand.
Why India is the preferred medical tourism destination?
The high end treatments that are available in India make it a preferred destination. Compliance to international standards of quality and the fact that Indian health professionals speak English fluently ensure there is not much of a language barrier, which has attracted people from US, UK or Europe to India.
India also caters to its to medical tourists with a wide range of alternative/holistic medicine and well-being packages such as Ayurvedic massages, yoga and meditation and spa treatments, which all make the convalescence period much more comfortable and comforting.
Kerala, Goa and Himachal Pradesh offer excellent holistic treatment in comfortable health spas, providing luxurious accommodation in picturesque locales. These centres also provide different kinds of massages and meditation courses to combat stress, bringing peace to troubled body, mind and soul.
India’s greatest asset, according to Dr. Devi Shetty, Cardiac Surgeon and Chairman of Narayana Hrudayalaya, is the ability of this country to produce the largest number of technically skilled doctors, nurses and technicians and he believes that India has some of the best services to offer.
Apart from this, India has a great advantage over Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia in the sense that the cost of surgery in India is considerably lesser than any of these other countries.
A ‘Business World’ report says that a heart bypass surgery in the US would cost around USD 1,44,000, USD 25000 in Costa Rica, USD 24000 in Thailand, USD 20000 in Mexico, USD 13500 in Singapore while in India it would cost USD 8500. It is needless to say that world class health care is administered at these rates.
In the year 2009, 150,000 medical tourists reached the Indian shores and it is believed that this figure would increase by 15% each year. The general observation from the industry is that most procedures in India would be at 1/5th the cost of such procedures in western countries such as UK or US.
Future of medical tourism
Recently, President Obama openly told people at a gathering in Virginia that
"I would like you to get it right here in the U.S.," he said. Most medical tourists know what they are getting when they travel abroad. Most medical tourists have done sufficient research online before travelling to receive any healthcare services. A recent study also showed that 10 out of 12 medical tourists had said that they would go back to the same doctors / hospital for treatment if necessary and they would also recommend it to their friends and relatives. This goes to show that treatment abroad is not inferior. Most of the complaints that were received were from people who had sought dental procedures or cosmetic surgeries. This could be because these were people with money on their hands looking not only for treatment, but for a holiday in a resort with star rated facilities. This study also points out that this section of medical tourists would anyway be a hard crowd to please.
From the statistics available about medical tourism, what one could infer is that the choice of destination is not going to be based on popularity but on considerations such as distance, cost, technology and personal preferences. Medical tourism is here to stay and the country that offers the best service would see a phenomenal growth spurt in this industry.
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