Jun 15, 2021

Medical Tourism and Policy Implications for Health Systems

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Medical tourism is basically the traveling of people abroad to acquire medical treatment. It usually involved the medical travel of people from developing or less developed countries to developed countries as they seek advanced technologies or treatments which are unavailable at home. However, in recent times, the trend has shifted as people from developed countries are also witnessed traveling to developing countries to treat their illnesses at less cost.

There are many other factors for people to travel abroad and contribute to the medical tourism industry like the unavailability of medicines. According to studies available online, it has been reported that most people travel abroad for surgeries or similar treatments. The main reason could be that in this particular field, the smaller countries don't have the latest machinery as it costs very much.

Medical tourism can be further divided into subcategories like health tourism which includes all sorts of medical treatment while wellness tourism could refer to when people seek rehabilitation abroad. It has attracted a lot of attention in the recent past and is quickly growing into a valuable asset.

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There are many factors behind the success of the medical tourism industry like the ease of affordability of health care and the absence of long waiting lists for certain procedures. For example, in the United Kingdom (UK) the waiting lists are a huge factor causing people to seek treatment abroad. And in the United States of America (USA), the cost of treatment is very high so many Americans prefer to travel abroad to tackle their illness.

Along with pros, there are some disadvantages or you could say ‘risks’ attached with medical tourism as well. It could be either a legal or ethical issue which a person doesn’t know about before traveling abroad. Or exposure to different diseases in foreign countries without having a natural immunity can be a hazard for weakened individuals especially gastrointestinal diseases such as hepatitis, typhoid, etc.

If we look at the past year or so, the growth of this industry has been on the decline due to the worldwide outbreak of coronavirus. The Covid-19’s impact on traveling has been dreadful as many countries globally shut down their borders and air travel in order to avoid the spread of the virus. According to the latest IMTJ Global Medical Travel and Tourism, travel is expected to remain affected until the end of 2021.

Such natural disasters can really open the world’s eyes and create opportunities for major reform. For instance, the expenses could be reduced by adopting cost-defraying policies. Like modifications in how medicine providers charge for pharmaceuticals.

Given the number of increases in diseases in the past decade, coronavirus seems unlikely to be the last pandemic we face. But in future, the suffering and damage could be prevented through effective policies to protect public health. This could be initiated with the local public health authorities implementing basic disease-control policies. While the expenses and major gaps in health care services could be controlled under proper financial policies.

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