Bring on the medical tourism

At least 500,000 Americans travel to other countries for their medical care annually, an industry that grossed about $60 billion worldwide in 2006. Revenue from medical tourism is expected to rise to $100 billion by 2012, says a 2007 report by the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA).

Contributing to this boom in medical tourism – which is loosely defined as people travelling from one place to another for whatever reason to get healthcare for whatever reason, be it lack of access, not enough insurance or for less-expensive outpatient procedures – is the support from the American Medical Association (AMA) and the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Health Care Organisations (JCAHO):

  • AMA has issued its first-ever guide for consumers embarking on foreign medical ventures.
  • The guide states that this is a global phenomenon, and predicts that if the dollar continues to weaken, more and more people will continue to seek care outside of the United States.
  • About 170 hospitals in 30 countries around the world now carry accreditation from the JCAHO, meeting similar quality and safety standards of American hospitals.
  • However, the JCAHO does make some accommodations for cultural differences, such as staffing, in other countries, but it carries out on-site visits every three years, as it does in the United States.
  • In 2006, there were fewer than 30 medical travel companies, now there are over 250.

    The main reason for this explosive growth is economic opportunity, and the chance for consumers to make their own decisions. However, both AMA and JACHO agree that even though consumer-driven health seems to be the wave of the future, only educated consumers should be involved in medical tourism.

    Further, they say that with medical tourism, people tend to choose a hospital rather than an individual physician; however, they need to also find out about a doctor's background as well.

    Source: Susan Jenks, Woman has vacation, checkup in India, Florida Today, September 28, 2008; based upon: Devon Herrick, Medical Tourism: Global Competition in Health Care, National Center for Policy Analysis, Study, No. 304, November 1, 2007.

    For text:

    For NCPA text:

    For more on Health Issues:

    FMF Policy Bulletin/ 07 October 2008
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