What is Medical Tourism? It is a term referring to the simple concept of traveling outside your home country to obtain healthcare, particularly surgery of all types. It can also include travel to obtain a second opinion or medication unavailable in one’s home country. There are several types of medical tourism, including cosmetic, dental, and general medical tourism. Each type differs depending upon the patient’s goals and needs.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says than tens of thousands of Americans travel abroad each year for medical treatment. Reasons for the travel vary, depending on individual medical circumstances. Some people travel abroad for medical care because they can obtain treatment and medication more affordably. Others do so because procedures, medications and treatments may not be available in their country of origin. The medical tourism market is growing at a rate of 15 to 20% each year, with most patients headed toward Mexico and South Asia.

Types of Medical Tourism

Some forms of medical tourism began because of international interest in cosmetic procedures. Medical clinics in several parts of the world have become known for specialized treatments for cosmetic surgery. Top world destinations for medical tourists include the United States, Costa Rica, Israel, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Mexico, Taiwan and Thailand. In addition to cosmetic surgery, different world healthcare destinations specialize in treatment for cancer, cardiovascular disease, weight loss surgery and reproductive health, including in-vitro fertilization. Patients Without Borders estimates that about 14 million cross-border patient visits occurred worldwide in 2016. 1.4 million of the travelers are Americans, which includes people from the southern United States traveling to Mexico for inexpensive prescription medication and dental care.

Reasons for Medical Tourism

Patients Without Borders reports that cost savings is the top reason for general medical tourism. Patients travel to foreign locations, saving up to 75 – 80% over costs in their country of origin, particularly the United States. Others travel to receive experimental treatments or participate in care that is not offered in their home country. Medications are often more affordable in different countries, and finally, cosmetic surgery procedures may be much more affordable in international health tourism destinations.

Accreditation and Degrees

Medical tourism is an emerging field. The first accreditation organization, Joint Commission International (JCI) began in 1999. JCI provides accreditation for more than 600 international medical destinations, including clinics and hospitals. International medical tourism degree programs have also emerged, with some colleges and universities, including an MBA for Health & Medical Tourism awarded by a consortium of European universities, including Breda University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands and Deggendorf & Neu-Ulm University of Applied Sciences in Germany. The universities also offer bachelors’ degrees in medical tourism and tourism management. The Medical Tourism Association offers several certificate programs, including Certified Medical Tourism Professional, and Certified Wellness Travel Professional. A medical tourism certification offered by an international accrediting agency can offer patients confidence that the clinic or hospital where they are traveling meets strict international standards for quality of patient care.

So what is medical tourism? It is a rapidly growing field of healthcare travel specialists, including people with expertise in various countries and regions as well as healthcare professionals, who can help people navigate the international health system and obtain medical care.

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