For many reasons numbers are at the heart of medical tourism. From an industry perspective it is essential to establish the scale of medical tourism so as to normalise it and the potential cost-savings so as to promote it. From the perspective of many national governments it is necessary to quantify the process so as to justify investment, chart growth, and demonstrate the impact on the national economy. And for academics there are a multitude of reasons to track the various numbers associated with medical tourism. This chapter opens by exploring the issue of costs, often portrayed as the key motivator for people to seek treatment abroad. Here we see that there sometimes exists a gap between the prices advertised online, the price quoted to prospective medical tourists and the final price that is paid. We reflect on the fact that whilst cost is an important factor for those who choose to travel, it is not always the key motivator and consider what this means for those providers that put costs at the heart of their marketing strategy. The chapter builds on the issue of costs and cost-savings by exploring whether the ‘fantastic offers’ provided by medical tourism providers are genuinely translating into large numbers of people travelling for treatment. Here some of the key figures quoted by both the industry and the academy are interrogated and in some cases exposed, before a tentative ‘total’ is put forward. The chapter then closes by considering how such figures translate into revenue.
Daniel Horsfall and Neil Lunt
Daniel Horsfall and Neil Lunt
This chapter presents a review of websites in order to explore the nature and quality of information that prospective tourists are subject to online. In the first instance, websites through which weight-loss surgery and dental treatment are advertised are reviewed. Here we find that these commercial websites often combine a ‘polished’ look with an authoritative tone. Alongside a ‘front of house’ similar to most commercial or retail websites, these sites also contain a substantial amount of information for visitors. Unfortunately, the standard of this information is extremely low, offering only partial coverage of issues related to medical tourism and downplaying, or simply not reporting, risks. Secondly, websites that purport to provide prospective medical tourists with important information that is not directly linked to the purchase of any product are reviewed. Sites such as those belonging to NHS Choices and the Department of Health, as well as consumer protection websites such as Which?, are reviewed with regard to the availability of ‘impartial’ advice that can be sought by prospective medical tourists. While misinformation and downplaying of risk is usually not an issue, the information available is still uneven and often incomplete. Neither commercial websites involved in the ‘selling’ of medical tourism nor more professional or informational websites fully equip the prospective medical tourist with sufficient understandable information with which to assess the benefits and risks of medical tourism. The chapter closes by considering the implications of this for medical tourists and whether and how medical tourism can be safely communicated.
Johanna Hanefeld and Daniel Horsfall
Despite a growth in literature focusing on many different aspects of medical tourism or travel (Connell, 2013), empirical evidence is still limited. While studies have addressed the system-level effects on origin and destination countries, health services and population, few have focused on who travels and why. Studies on bariatric tourists to date have focused on complications and ethical issues relating to patients who travel for bariatric treatment but not on motivation and experience. Like cosmetic surgery, bariatric surgery is often perceived to be non-essential, but links to patients intending to improve themselves and their looks, taking action on an aspect of their life with which they are dissatisfied (Holliday et al., 2014). This chapter addresses the gap in the literature, by focusing on thirteen in-depth interviews with UK patients who travelled abroad to access bariatric treatment. It examines their motivation to travel, how they decided on the procedure and provider of treatment, the experiences of actual treatments received, and any complications or follow-up treatment required once they returned to the UK.
Neil Lunt and Daniel Horsfall
Medical tourism is an intimate clinical encounter, involving diagnosis and treatment, aiming at the achievement of a successful outcome. In focusing on outcomes there are a number of different themes relating to organisation and delivery of medical tourism, including the opaqueness of numbers and the epidemiology of medical travellers, the different motivations of medical tourists, the role of private sector providers, regulation, monitoring and reporting, and the internet in marketing medical tourism. The chapter is structured in three parts. First, it introduces the context of outcomes for treatments and discusses conceptual and technical difficulty. Second, it examines the evidence base around medical tourism outcomes to identify what we know about the results of treatment abroad. Third, it discusses the findings of an empirical study exploring the treatment outcomes of a sample of patients who had travelled from the UK for treatment abroad.
Edited by Neil Lunt, Daniel Horsfall and Johanna Hanefeld
Neil Lunt, Daniel Horsfall and Johanna Hanefeld
Travel for health benefits pre-dates the rise of modern medicine and existence of passports, harking back to porous borders and less institutionalized medicine. Alongside change in travel technology, scientific and surgical developments encouraged growing patient mobility during the twentieth century. In recent decades wealthy people from less developed areas of the world travelled to developed nations to access better facilities and highly trained clinicians, drawn by innovation and reputation. In what is predominantly a private sector there has been dramatic commodification of health and medical treatments. This chapter traces the shaping of contemporary medical tourism, including the strategic role of governments in supporting and promoting national interests, and demands for regulation.