Medical tourism has become one of the most quickly expanding business in the world, particularly in Asia.
Contrary to what many have proclaimed, international travel to seek health care is nothing new. “Ancient Romans used to actually travel to areas which are now called Switzerland and Turkey for thermal spas. The trend has become renewed due to a variety of things, not the least of which is technology, globalization and more consumerism within healthcare," said Dr. David Vequist heads the Center for Medical Tourism Research in San Antonio, Texas.
He said the expanding and aging population worldwide is leading to a change in the way people seek healthcare. “We’re looking at a situation where healthcare demand is increasing while around the world, the number of resources is declining to some extent. The people are getting more picky and they’re having more opportunities to try to select the best healthcare available. So it looks like a lot of competition, a lot of travel, declining or scarce resources in many places around the world," he said.
Many developing countries, especially in Asia, are providing medical services that are on a par or in some cases exceed those available in the west. In addition, Vequist says the services being offered are expanding.
“According to studies that our center has done. The Center for Medial Tourism Research, we found that dental may be upwards from 20 to 30 percent of all of the procedures that are done and for travel around the world. It also includes spa, health and wellness and an exciting area we’re trying to study right now is the area of retirement tourism where people are travelling even more from their home countries to other countries for the purposes of costs to live there as well as for healthcare. People are going to other countries and other locations because there is better healthcare or in some cases more healthcare available," he said.
In fact, many such retirement communities featuring healthcare services, as well as international medical tourism facilities, are cropping up across the world. This, says Vequist, is leading to a new type of healthcare structure.
“The thing that’s going on is that most of these tourism hubs or tourist locations typically are private facilities. What is happening, and you see this more so in Asia than you do in many other regions around the world, is a two tiered system. A public and private system is provided to people who do not have additional expendable income to spend on healthcare. And then what you see is as people increase in affluence, they’re choosing better healthcare for them and their families, and then they’re travelling. And increasingly as the internet access makes everything available, particularly information, people are finding out about healthcare not only in their own country but outside of their country that they can access. So people are travelling more and more frequently for healthcare," he said.
While Vequist says international medical tourism presents a great investment opportunity, many others are worried that more medical tourists, as predicted, will bring future problems for the healthcare industry in the United States.