Medical tourism refers to people traveling to a country other than their own to obtain medical treatment. In the past this usually referred to those who traveled from less-developed countries to major medical centers in highly developed countries for treatment unavailable at home. However, in recent years it may equally refer to those from developed countries who travel to developing countries for lower priced medical treatments. The motivation may be also for medical services unavailable or illegal in the home country. The term medical tourism may sound strange and exotic to some people; but in fact it is a rapidly growing phenomenon spurred on by an increasingly empowered patient base searching for quality, affordability, availability, and accessibility in healthcare.
Factors that have led to the increasing popularity of medical travel include the high cost of health care, long wait times for certain procedures, the ease and affordability
of international travel, and improvements in both technology and standards of care in many countries. The avoidance of waiting times is the leading factor for medical tourism from the UK, whereas in the US, the main reason is cheaper prices abroad.
DOMESTIC MEDICAL TOURISM
Domestic medical tourism – whereby individuals or employees travel across the country for medical care – has been growing steadily over the past few years. Although driven in part by individuals seeking low cost surgeries, the trend toward domestic medical tourism is being led by employers and insurers whose primary focus is quality.
Typically, an employer will contract directly with high quality centers of excellence. These are hospitals that specialize in certain procedures and can therefore offer better outcomes at a lower price than can be found locally. By steering workers to facilities with high-quality care and lower prices, employers can reduce their costs 20% to 40% — more than enough to cover the travel expenses. To encourage workers to use the program, employers often waive deductibles and cover their travel and hotel costs.
Employers with domestic travel programs save money in part by negotiating a single rate, which includes fees for surgeons, anesthesiologists and all medical care up until the patient is discharged. But there are other benefits. Referring employees to a center of excellence has also been shown to reduce medical complications, surgical reinterventions and recovery times, allowing employees to return to work quicker. Hospitals benefit by getting paid up front and increasing patient volume.
Although domestic medical tourism is still only a small slice of the medical tourism pie, its recent implementation by several high profile companies can only help its growth in the coming years.