’m off to Africa on safari… and for a hip replacement.” Sounds bizarre, but the decision to travel thousands of miles for a medical procedure in a strange country has become almost commonplace. Throw in the odd “safari” or day trip and you have what is loosely termed “medical tourism”. While not all medical tourists actively seek the tourism aspect together with their medical needs, the trend has gained momentum.
So why do people elect to travel to another country for a medical procedure? For some it might be a lack of medical services in their country. Others, like those in countries such as the US and UK, are driven abroad by exorbitant medical costs.
The cost of quality healthcare, increasing well above the CPI, is one of the key factors driving patients to pursue international healthcare options. A report, published by Deloitte found that two in five of surveyed respondents would be interested in pursuing treatment abroad if quality was comparable to that of the US, and the savings were 50% or more. The report also found that 37% of baby boomers would consider travelling to a foreign country for elective procedures, where in South Africa they would pay only 30-40% of what they would pay in the US. For US citizens, savings of up to 85% can be had for those willing to travel as far as India, Malaysia or Thailand. They can also save up to 65% by travelling closer to home to countries such as Brazil or Costa Rica, a country that brought in $196m from medical tourism in 2012. Thailand is another country with a big slice of the medical tourism pie. Although not alone in its pursuit of a larger piece of the pie, having the largest private hospital in Southeast Asia, which alone attracts around 400 000 international patients annually, definitely helps. While exact figures are difficult to obtain or confirm, other countries too are cashing in on the medical tourism market with Singapore anticipating a $4.3bn gain in medical tourism this year, while India purportedly e x pects to s ee a $ 2. 3bn i ncrease.