Quite simply, medical tourism is traveling to receive medical care. The term has been coined by journalists looking for a catch phrase to easily describe this apparently new phenomenon.
Medical tourism is in reality not a new concept. It dates back thousands of years. The earliest written accounts come to us from ancient Greece. People would travel from all over the Mediterranean to the Greek territory of Epidaurus, to receive healing treatments from Asclepios.
Since then, many have traveled to springs around the world to “take the healing waters”. Many have also visited religious sites in hopes of medical cures.
In recent years there has been an increase in the numbers of people becoming medical tourists, and traveling around the world for high quality affordable healthcare.
The reasons are many. Primarily the reason is cost. In the U.S. healthcare costs and health insurance costs are spiraling out of control. Currently there are over 45 million Americans without health insurance of any kind. In other industrialized countries with national healthcare waiting times for operations can be as long as 2 years forcing people overseas for surgery. In the U.S. elective surgery, such as cosmetic surgery, not covered by insurance is many times more expensive than it is overseas.
Another reason people take medical vacations is that the procedure they wanted was not approved by the U. S. government. A recent example of this is the Birmingham Hip Resurfacing System, which was available in India and Thailand 10 years before it was available in the U.S. Countries like India and South Korea are on the cutting edge of stem cell research. Many countries are now investing millions of dollars in building world-class hospitals that are second to none, and meet the strictest international standards.
Globalization has made it more difficult for U.S. companies to remain competitive. One big reason for this is the impact that rising healthcare costs are having on the bottom lines of self-insured companies. These companies are now starting to look overseas for high quality healthcare for their employees, and at the same time lowering the cost of their benefits.
And on a less serious note some people are looking to combine things like dental work, or plastic surgery with a medical retreat to an exotic location like India,Thailand, Malaysia, Costa Rica, and Mexico, or any of a growing number of places that are now offering safe, affordable healthcare.
Whatever you call it, medical tourism, health tourism, international healthcare, medical retreat, overseas healthcare, medical travel abroad, it is a complex phenomenon that is not new, and will probably be with us for a long time.
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