What is medical tourism?

Medical tourists elect to travel across international borders to receive some form of medical treatment. Treatments may span the full range of medical services. Most common: dental care, cosmetic surgery, elective surgery, and fertility treatment.

The first recorded instance of people traveling for medical treatment dates back thousands of years to when Greek pilgrims traveled from the eastern Mediterranean to a small area in the Saronic Gulf called Epidauria. This territory was the sanctuary of the healing god Asklepios.

Spa towns and sanitaria were early forms of medical tourism. In 18th-century Europe patients visited spas because they were places with supposedly health-giving mineral waters, treating diseases from gout to liver disorders and bronchitis.


Types of Tourism Therapy  

  1. Medical tourism
  2. Wellness tourism
  3. Health tourism


Wellness travelers pursue diverse services, including physical fitness and sports; beauty treatments; healthy diet and weight management; relaxation and stress relief; meditation; yoga; and health-related education. Wellness travelers may seek procedures or treatments using conventional, alternative, complementary, herbal, or homeopathic medicine.

Medical tourism can be understood as a subset of the wider notion of patient mobility which itself may be sub-divided as follows:

Temporary visitors abroad: These include those individuals holidaying abroad who use health services as a result of an accident or a sudden illness. Health services for tourists are funded variously through the European Health Insurance Card (for EU citizens) for occasional or emergency treatment within the EU, private insurance and out-of-pocket expenses. These would not be considered as =medical tourists‘, more just = unfortunate tourists‘!

Long-term residents: There are increasing flows of EU citizens choosing to retire in countries other than their country of origin, within the EU borders and indeed beyond, and there are growing exchanges of working-age citizens within Europe. Such residents may receive health services funded variously by the country of residence, the country of origin, private insurance, or through private contributions. Again, these individuals would not be considered as ‗medical tourists‘.

Common borders: countries that share common borders may collaborate in providing crossnational public funding for health care services from providers in other countries.

Outsourced patients: are those patients opting to be sent abroad by health agencies using crossnational purchasing agreements. Typically, such agreements are driven by long waiting lists and a lack of available specialists and specialist equipment in the home country.

The global growth in the flow of patients and health professionals, as well as medical technology, capital funding and regulatory regimes across national borders, has given rise to new patterns of consumption and production of healthcare services over recent decades.

Medical tourism also highlights the role of the industry, issues of advertising, supplier-induced demand and extends beyond the notion of willingness to travel.

Today the worldwide marketplace for health and medical care has changed and medical tourists go in both directions, from rich and poor countries in a similar way and developing countries became the main destinations where high quality combined with affordable healthcare is available.


Main drivers of medical tourism:

Relative size of medical-traveler segments   (100% )

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