Medical Tourism: The History

Medical tourism is not quite the modern marvel we regard it to be. In spite of only recently coming under the spotlight for becoming the prime choice for patients across the world, the idea of travelling to different places seeking better facilities or in some way preferred medical treatment, contrary to popular opinion isn’t a seed of modern thought.

First Instances

The first recorded instance of medical tourism dates back to when Greek pilgrims travelled from all over the Mediterranean to Epidauria, a small territory in the Saronic Gulf. From there on, over the years, medical tourism has vastly expanded its network, linking multiple countries and providing accessible, cheap and reliable treatment to thousands of people from global markets.

Sluggish But Steady Rise

History of Medical Tourism

Greece and Rome offered spas and sanitariums for providing relief from disabling conditions since 5th century BC. Source: Roland Geider via Wikipedia 


In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, European destinations like St. Moritz, Lausanne, Interlaken and Baden became extremely popular tourist destinations, largely motivated by medical factors. Other cities like Vienna, Budapest and Baden-Baden also became common destinations.

In the United States and Canada, mineral springs were used for the development of spa tourism, around which the first national parks have been established.


Countries like Japan and India which boast a rich heritage of traditional medicinal practices became extremely popular too. Ayurveda and such branches of medicine started attracting people from all over Asia towards the Indian subcontinent.


Although medical tourism had shown its first proper modern signs in around the 1930’s, travel across continents was limited only to the rich and affluent. Nevertheless, people continued to flock to health centers, sanitariums and spas for gout, liver disorder treatment etc.

Gradual Growth In The 19th Century

In recent times though, and that is to say 1980’s, medical tourism wasn’t initially met with the warmest of welcomes. While the obvious travelling factor played a part, major hospitals in many developed countries were appalled at the notion of losing their ‘clientele’. But in this window itself, fast growing and developing countries like China, India, Taiwan, Costa Rica, Brazil etc. saw the opportunity to bolster, not only their medical facilities, but also as a result, their economy, by drawing in patients from all over the world.


A number of Latin American countries, India, China became important destinations for eye surgeries, heart procedures and cosmetic surgeries. Owing to the Asian economic crisis, Taiwan and Thailand slowly joined the fray, offering comparatively inexpensive sex-change operations, hip and knee replacements and plastic surgery.  


In 1997, the Joint Commission International was established to check and investigate international healthcare facilities for conformance to international standards due to the emergence of health providers around the world.


Medical tourism has become a rapidly growing sector with the advent of mobile technology. There are numerous tourism agencies in major hospitals in many countries that plan the complete trip for patients, from treatment to accommodation.


Looking at the patient satisfaction rate of roughly 70%, according to the MTA 2009 survey, and considering the sheer number of remarkable breakthroughs in numerous cases across the world, medical tourism is every bit worthy of being the medical marvel we regard it to be.

Published inMedical Tourism
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