All countries have their own share of advantages and disadvantages in terms of healthcare. An amalgamation of these benefits and drawbacks is what makes these countries both sources and destinations in the sphere of medical tourism.
1. Features of source countries
Source countries refer to those countries from where patients travel abroad for the purpose of acquiring medical treatment. These countries are the providers of medical tourists. Many countries generally become sources of medical tourism because they lack certain characteristics which are important for a patient.
In some countries, medical treatment is too expensive for most ailments whereas in others, patients have to wait for weeks, if not months even for their treatment. Patients also choose other countries over their home countries due to lack of good quality medical treatment or the absence of certain medical procedures altogether. Medical tourism is also a desirable option in case the medical procedure is illegal in the home country.
2. Features of destination countries
Medical tourism destination countries are the those countries which patients approach to get their desired medical treatment. Certain countries become destinations of medical tourism if they can meet the requirements of the patients which weren’t met in their home countries. Many of these destinations boast modern facilities with advanced technology and appealing accommodations, which attract medical tourists to these places.
A substantial number of the physicians in medical tourism destinations receive postgraduate training in industrialized nations, have board certification, and may have practiced in the country where they completed their training. These countries are a haven for patients who come from countries which lack the necessary medical facilities or don’t provide affordable health care.
3. Features of countries with a dual role
3.1 Regional referral center for patients from poor neighbouring countries
Referral centers are highly specialised healthcare units which assist patients in acquiring medical treatments if it is unavailable in the place where they have previously sought the specified treatment. Some countries become regional referral centers for patients from poor neighbouring countries because they cater to the requirements of the patients by providing treatments which may not be available in their home countries.
For example, India is a referral center for patients from neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, etc., because it provides the patients with specialised healthcare services that are either unavailable in their home countries or are of poor quality. This also aids the early detection of diseases and reduces patient morbidity.
3.2 Low cost medical tourism destinations for patients from highly developed countries
Patients belonging to developed nations are often attracted to the developing ones for medical tourism because they provide state-of-the-art facilities, similar to those available in their home countries at a fraction of the cost. In many cases, the patients are not insured for certain medical treatments and travel to other countries to escape the hefty prices of certain procedures.
For example, due to the exorbitant costs of medical treatment in U.S.A, the patients choose to go abroad for medical treatments. Their purpose is to save 50% to 80% on medical treatment conducted by doctors who are often trained in the United States, at hospitals that maintain the precise standards of patient care and safety.
4. Countries that have become both sources and destinations of medical tourism
Certain countries in the medical tourism industry are both the senders and receivers of medical tourists. The overall effect of the movement of patients in these countries depends on whether outflow is stronger than inflow or vice versa. Here’s a look at some such nations.
Singapore has emerged as a hotspot for medical tourism and has one of the best healthcare systems in the world because of the following reasons:
Singapore is also a source for medical tourism. Many Singaporeans prefer going abroad for medical treatment for the following reasons:
For inpatient services, the government restructured hospitals provide a reasonably good service, but it is costly and patients will normally be asked to provide a credit card and pay a very large deposit upon admittance.
Singaporeans feel that insufficient attempts are made to understand customers' expectations and provide a satisfactory service.
U.S.A. has been widely acknowledged as an innovator in state-of-the-art treatments and diagnostics. It is a preferred destination for acquiring treatments for the following reasons:
Cutting-edge medical technology: Almost all hospitals, clinics and academic medical centers offer sophisticated and technologically advanced medical care.
Highly skilled medical professionals: The healthcare network in the U.S. is made up of a highly skilled workforce, which includes specialized physicians, technicians and nurses. The availability of physicians who conform to high standards of qualification results in better care for patients.
Easier communication: For any international patient whose first language is not English, interpreters and translators provide assistance in face-to-face communication. Patients can also choose written communication with the hospital staff. These services ensure that there are no hindrances in providing the best service to the patients.
According to an MTA report on American citizens, 64% of patients who travelled abroad for medical care did not have health insurance.
U.S.A. is also a major source of medical tourism because of certain reasons:
High cost of medical treatment: Since patients in U.S.A are charged exorbitant fees for the simplest of procedures, many of them prefer destinations which provide the required treatment at a reasonable cost.
High waiting times: in U.S.A. , patients have to wait for weeks for even getting an appointment with a medical practitioner. To avoid wasting time waiting for the treatment and for preventing aggravation of their medical problems, patients travel to other countries to get the desired treatment.
United Kingdom is gaining popularity as a medical tourism destination for the following reasons:
Top-notch research facilities: Till today, the UK maintains a firm footing when it comes to medical research, making groundbreaking discoveries in the field of surgical practice and medicine.
Cutting-edge equipment and skilled practitioners: Healthcare facilities are equipped with advanced technology and cutting-edge equipment that make medical treatment fast, efficient and effective. The practitioners themselves have exceptional skills and expertise, which make the healthcare system in U.K. a force to be reckoned with.
Non-existent language barrier: The staff is habituated to treating overseas patients, and medical practitioners speak English as well as other languages. Some private hospitals also have interpreter services which prove to be helpful to medical tourists who do not converse in English.
Many patients from U.K. also turn to other countries for medical treatment because of the following reasons:
High waiting times: patients often have to wait for long periods to get medical treatment. This often leaves the patients with no choice, but to seek treatment in other countries.
Very high cost of private health-care: if the patients aren’t able to gain access to the treatment through government-regulated hospitals, they have the option of approaching the private hospitals. But this comes at a high cost which is unreasonable for the patients.
Reasons behind the increasing popularity of China as a medical tourism destination:
Low cost of healthcare: Patients from developed countries often go to China due to the reasonable cost of healthcare.
American Board certified doctors: Patients are more comfortable getting treatment from China because they know that they are dealing with medical professionals trained to the highest standards.
A mix of traditional Chinese medicine and Modern Western Medicine: Medical tourists can head to China for a variety of Western specialized treatments such as cancer care, heart surgery, and hip replacements, and also for techniques derived from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) like acupuncture for pain management, depression, and osteoarthritis, often in the same trip.
A report by ILTM Asia says that 66% of the Chinese elite would consider medical tourism.
Why China is a source of medical tourism:
Overcrowding of hospitals: Since everyone wants to go to the major academic health centers, there are enormous lines starting early in the morning to get in and see a specialist. Not everyone gets through the line, however, and people who do get in don’t always get the results they want.
Inefficiency in the implementation of health-care policies: Health care reform in China is further impeded by the fact that the heads of many Chinese medical centers tend to be political appointees rather than professionally trained managers, which results in serious performance and governance issues.
Poland has been a medical tourism hotspot for a long time because of the following reasons:
Affordable healthcare and medical treatments: While cosmetic procedures here are approximately 40 to 80 percent cheaper, facilities like rehabilitation and bariatric care are up to six times more affordable here than in some other countries like USA and Canada.
No waiting time: Poland has a large network of hospitals and clinics that are well organized and regulated by the Polish government. This saves the patients from a lot of hassle.
A great spa destination: Poland is blessed with a unique geography and boasts of natural hot springs, salt caves, mineral-rich mud and clean atmosphere. These natural resources have single-handedly put Poland on the wellness and rejuvenation map of the world.
Poland as a source of medical tourism:
Poland has adequate medical facilities, but they are of a lower standard than many western countries. This makes the Polish citizens opt for medical tourism.
Vietnam is a medical tourism destination because of the following reasons:
Speciality in Oncology: Vietnamese doctors have a lot of experience in treating cancer, especially breast cancer.
Superior research and development department: Vietnamese hospitals were among the best in the Southeast Asia for in vitro maturation. HCM City Orthopaedic Hospital had developed microsurgery and successfully applied calf bone replacement techniques.
Low cost of treatment: the cost of medical treatment in Vietnam is very low, which is a prime reason for medical tourist attraction.
Vietnam is a source of medical tourism because of these reasons:
Lack of professionalism among doctors: Professionalism in the Vietnamese health sector is alarmingly poor and the service offered is not yet satisfactory for patients.
Complicated administrative procedures: Unnecessary formalities and red-tapism makes medical facilities less accessible to the patients and makes them turn their backs on Vietnam for treatment.
Medical tourism plays a profoundly vital role in bridging the gap between the source and destination countries and facilitates the provision of superior medical services to the patients.