Medical tourism grows in popularity: What execs should know
As payers look for growth opportunities internationally, they should keep an eye on another growing trend: medical tourism. “The digitalization of communication today provides prospective patients with a wealth of information on the Internet, offering a choice of healthcare services and medical treatments around the world,” says Chandy Abraham, MBBS, MS, DNB, MRCS, ADHA, CEO, and head of medical services, Health City Cayman Islands, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands. “Countries and medical facilities are actively marketing themselves as medical destinations, hoping to attract patients through the promise of affordable, high-quality healthcare.”
JudahRalph Judah, director, Global Markets Lead, Health Plans, Deloitte consulting firm, Boston, foresees medical tourism growing in popularity as the cost gap between offerings in the United States’ and other countries offering an equivalent level of quality services continues to grow.
Jonathan Edelheit, CEO, The Medical Tourism Association, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, says efforts abroad focus on offering specialized treatments that aren’t attainable in the United States, such as advanced treatments not approved by FDA for complex conditions—like stem cell procedures and restorative orthopedic procedures such as jaw reduction and hip replacement.
Another emphasis is on elective procedures not covered by traditional health insurance, such as Lasik surgery. Some destinations are starting points for medical procedures to be approved.
Edelheit cites increasing attendance at the association’s international convention over the last decade as evidence that interest in medical tourism is growing. “As more patients go overseas and come home with successful outcomes, word of mouth will increase the number of people who are interested,” he says. He estimates that between 750,000 to 1 million Americans currently travel for medical tourism annually.
Karen Appold is a medical writer in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania.