Medical tourism is on its way back.
After being set back by the pandemic, Americans are reported to be once again traveling abroad in growing numbers to obtain medical help at a cost that is often a fraction of the same treatment they would receive at home.
The trend is expected to pick up sharply in the months ahead and is predicted to return to, and even exceed, pre-pandemic levels within a year or two.
Soaring healthcare costs in the U.S. are the main factors behind the tidal wave of Americans seeking medical treatment outside the country, analysts say.
Examples from a report by Zion Market Research:
• A hospital stay in the United States costs almost $12,000 a day compared with $154 a night for a Mexican hospital and $95 for a similar hospital stay in Costa Rica.
• Hip replacement surgery can cost almost $57,000 in some U.S. states compared with less than $7,000 in Spain and almost $12,500 in Mexico.
• Treatment for cardiovascular disorders costs from 30 to 50 percent less in Asian and Latin American countries than in the United States.
Quality is increasing
In addition to avoiding high costs, medical tourists also see treatment outside the country as increasingly becoming equal in quality to that available in the United States.
Some medical facilities in nations such as Thailand, Brazil, India, and China are equivalent in standards to that those that are available in the developed world, a report by Mordor Intelligence notes.
Among the most popular destinations for medical tourism are southeast Asian countries such as Thailand and India, where in 2019, Apollo Health City in Hyderabad, won the Best Medical Tourism Facility Award from the Indian government.
Mexico, within easy reach from the United States, is also a popular destination for U.S. medical tourists.
Hit by COVIDRead More »
Now, however, as international air travel is returning almost to pre-pandemic levels, medical tourism is reported to be returning, too. A pent-up demand from patients seeking elective surgery abroad could see medical tourism picking up even more quickly than anticipated, analysts say.
Globally, an estimated 24 million patients traveled to other countries to receive medical treatment in 2019. That number is predicted to reach almost 75 million by 2027, according to the Zion Market Research report.
A significant number of those patients are from the United States. Pre-pandemic departures for medical treatment overseas were estimated to have been running at almost 15 percent of all passengers on outbound flights from the United States, according to Zion Market Research.
Seniors most affected
The move to obtain medical treatment out of the country is particularly pronounced among people who are aged over 65. That population group is more susceptible to illnesses than younger people. Faced with living on fixed incomes, they try to find options in developing countries largely because of the lower costs.
For all ages, medical tourism is particularly strong among patients who are seeking procedures that are inadequately covered by medical insurance. Such treatments usually involve cosmetic surgery as well as diagnostic and therapeutic procedures.
Particularly popular are face lifts, rhinoplasty, hair transplants, bariatric surgery, and breast transplants and augmentation.
Among the major types of healthcare treatment for which people are expected to travel once more to foreign countries are transplants, heart surgery, cancer treatment, elective surgery, therapy for brain diseases, orthopedic therapy, dermatology, ophthalmology, and treatment for infertility, according to the Zion Market Research report.
Dental tourism also is likely to continue to grow strongly as people seek to have treatment that often is cosmetic and is not covered by Medicare in the United States. Mexico has become popular for dental work because its borders abut the United States and in many cases the places in which the dental work is available are just across the border.
Among the reasons that medical costs are much higher in developing countries such as the United States are that the instruments, equipment and products used in treatments are highly priced, according to the Mordor Intelligence report. In other countries, particularly developing countries, they are less costly.
In addition, long waits for treatment combined with strict formalities and official regulations in developed countries lead people to look elsewhere for treatment.
As a result people are turning to countries such as India, Brazil, Thailand, and the United Arab Emirates for treatment. In those countries medical tourists can obtain care and treatment that is equivalent to that in their home country but at a considerably lower price and without long waiting times, Mordor Intelligence notes.
Document transfers can be a problem
Among the challenges faced by medical tourism include the transfer of medical records, which are vital for doctors to understand a patient’s history. A patient’s records can be caught up in miscommunication between different caregivers, resulting in standards of care that can be conflicting, according to the report by Mordor Intelligence.
Another problem arises when a patient returns from having received medical treatment in another country with documentation that is incomplete or non-existent. A doctor in the United States might face problems in deciding on the kind of post-operative medication that should be given to a patient.
In addition, patient privacy can be threatened by the transfer of health records internationally, which is often unregulated.
Explore Games and Apps