Patients take flight as medical tourism booms

March 11, 2017

Medical tourism has grown into a healthy travel sector as people shop beyond their borders for everything from dental work to plastic surgery, say experts at Berlin's ITB travel fair.

This year is the first that the global tourism show has set aside space in the halls of the German capital's congress centre for the emerging sector.

Health tourism is already worth billions of dollars per year and set to grow at up to 25 percent annually over the coming decade, according to a recent study by Visa and Oxford Economics.

Thanks to the internet, a growing middle class, often from countries without high-quality healthcare, "know that there are treatments out there for them," said Julie Munro, president of the Medical Travel Quality Alliance, which produces a ranking of the 10 best hospitals for medical tourists.

But medical tourism is not limited to a few countries, nor to people from wealthier nations travelling to less pricey ones.

Countries like the United States, Turkey, Thailand, Singapore, Spain and Germany see both inward and outward flows, as patients dodge waiting lists or hunt for care that is either unavailable or too expensive in their own country.

"You have medical tourism, really, globally," said Thomas Boemkes of marketing firm and ITB partner Diversity Tourism.

"For example, you have a lot of Germans going to Poland or Croatia doing dental care because it is cheaper.

"But also a lot of Russians and Arabians coming to Germany because we have high-quality hospitals and care they don't have in their countries."

Over-diagnosis

"We work with travel agencies and offer complete packages" including pick-up from airports, said Jacco Vroegop, head of clinics in Amsterdam and Frankfurt for ophthalmology network Worldeye.

Launched in Turkey before expanding into Germany and, in the future, into the Netherlands, the group says it treats around 50,000 foreign patients from 107 countries each year.

Medical tourism offers range from through to , reproductive medicine, cancer or heart treatments, rehabilitation and preventive examinations.

But Munro warns of a "growing problem" that patients travelling abroad are particularly at risk of "over-diagnosis" aimed at swelling their bills.

Medical tourists are also often concerned with security in destination countries. Worldeye, for example, expects more clients to opt for its sites in Amsterdam or Frankfurt than for Istanbul or Antalya as Turkey struggles with political tensions.

Swelling numbers

Dubai has made big bets on medical tourism since 2012, concentrating on seven specialities where the city has the capacity take on extra patients without affecting care for locals.

Some 42 treatment centres have been singled out for their focus on taking in foreign patients.

"We launched a strategy, a brand, Dubai Health Experience, and a website for all tourists to be able to access official information on where they can be treated, and a mobile app," said Linda Abdulla Ali, a consultant with the city's Medical Tourism Council.

In 2015, 298,000 people travelled to the biggest city in the United Arab Emirates for care, 30 percent of them from other Arab nations.

"Our objective is to attract half a million medical tourists by 2020," she said.

Other countries, such as Portugal, are just beginning to dip their toes into the market.

"We're still preparing our strategy, starting the promotion all over the world," said Joaquim Cunha of Health Cluster Portugal.

The group plans an offer based on "a modern park of private hospitals," Cunha said.

"We don't think that for medical tourism purposes we can use the public hospitals," he added.

Explore further: Medical tourism sets pulses racing

Related Stories

Medical tourism sets pulses racing

May 8, 2012
From liposuction in Athens to an eye operation in Dubai, the lucrative market in medical tourism is on the up, tempting ever more countries to look for ways to profit from foreign patient care.

Rise of medical tourism shows impact on cosmetic surgery market

October 30, 2013
Would you consider traveling to Mexico or India for a less-expensive rhinoplasty or breast augmentation procedure? Many Americans are doing just that—and the trend is having an impact on the market for cosmetic plastic ...

Dubai cuts profile as Mideast plastic surgery hub

October 23, 2014
Dubai, the emirate known for its celebration of over-the-top glamour and luxury, is racing ahead to dominate the Middle East's plastic surgery market with plans to attract half a million medical tourists in six years.

Medical tourism isn't always a fair deal for developing countries

February 25, 2015
Medical tourism is an awful term. It conveys an image of people from a cold climate flying off to some warm beach resort for a bit of nip and tuck, some dental repair or a few weeks of health spa rejuvenation. Although this ...

Challenges to the NHS from 'health tourism' going unrecognized

February 13, 2012
The rise of medical tourism presents significant challenges for the NHS according to new work from academics at the Universities of Birmingham and York. They argue that policy makers have so far failed to address the implications ...

The implications of medical tourism for patients and health systems

June 30, 2015
Patients who travel abroad for medical treatment risk returning with complications or infections that require costly treatment on the NHS and is one of the issues highlighted in a new handbook exploring medical tourism.

Recommended for you

Poor sleep could lead to heavier drinking in young adults, study finds

December 8, 2017
A shortened night of sleep may increase young adults' risk of heavier drinking, according to a new Yale study that assessed reciprocal variations in sleep and drinking over time in young adults.

Researchers say nutritional labeling for sodium doesn't work

December 8, 2017
Potato chips, frozen pizza, a fast food hamburger-these foods are popular in the American diet and saturated with sodium. Though eating too much can lead to high blood pressure and heart disease, 90 percent of Americans eat ...

Observation care may save more than thought

December 8, 2017
In the world of health care spending policy, it usually works that as Medicare goes so goes private insurance on matters of managing the cost and quality of care.

Screen time before bed linked with less sleep, higher BMIs in kids

December 7, 2017
It may be tempting to let your kids stay up late playing games on their smartphones, but using digital devices before bed may contribute to sleep and nutrition problems in children, according to Penn State College of Medicine ...

Mindful yoga can reduce risky behaviors in troubled youth, says research

December 7, 2017
For some young people, dealing with life stressors like exposure to violence and family disruption often means turning to negative, risky behaviors—yet little is known about what can intervene to stop this cycle.

Teen girls 'bombarded and confused' by sexting requests: study

December 7, 2017
Adolescent women feel intense pressure to send sexual images to men, but they lack the tools to cope with their concerns and the potential consequences, according to new Northwestern University research published Wednesday, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.