International medical tourism is on the rise

More Americans than ever are travelling abroad for medical treatment, according to a study released by the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions. Approximately 750,000 Americans travelled abroad for medical care in 2007, and as many as 6 million will have received healthcare outside the United States by 2010. Advocates of medical tourism say it gives consumers more choice in and control of their healthcare, offers better care at lower prices and pushes American health care providers by creating competition.

More patient control:

  • The increase in medical travel is causing patients to search diligently for information about the quality and outcome of the treatment they will receive.
  • In part, they do it because they're travelling abroad, but they are becoming more involved in their health care.

    More information and accreditation:
  • In June 2008, the American Medical Association approved guidelines for U.S. residents travelling abroad to receive medical care and for employers considering covering overseas care.
  • Several big insurance companies and employers are encouraging medical tourism and even offering rewards for those who choose it.
  • Additionally, the Joint Commission, a non-profit organisation that independently accredits and certifies thousands of healthcare providers in the United States, has established an international branch.

    More personalised care:
  • Many foreign hospitals boast higher nurse-to-patient ratios, which results in fewer infections, more patient attention and fewer deaths.
  • Patients can often get a procedure or a prescription not yet available in the United States, and some procedures that only recently became available in the United States have been practiced for years abroad.

    Rising U.S. prices contribute:
  • As more and more people have out-of-pocket responsibility, they're looking around for the best deal, and out-of-country services are an incredibly good deal if you're willing to travel.
  • The rise in medical tourism is cause for alarm among some domestic healthcare providers, and it will end up forcing them to improve their services.

    Overall, medical tourism is a great opportunity to reduce U.S. health spending and allow more Americans to get high-quality care abroad, says Heartland.

    Source: Jillian Melchior and Maggie Goode, International Medical Tourism Is on the Rise, Health Care News (Heartland Institute), February 2009; based upon: Medical Tourism: Emerging Phenomenon in Health Care Industry, Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, 2009.

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    For more on Health Issues:

    FMF Policy Bulletin/ 10 February 2009
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