How many medical tourists are there?

There has always been speculation about the true number of medical tourists travelling from the UK for treatment abroad.

We've just completed the first ever survey of medical tourism providers, and have come up with some interesting data on the medical tourism market. The Treatment Abroad Medical Tourism Survey 2007 (, reveals that over 50,000 people travelled abroad for treatment last year, and spent £161 million on medical tourism. The number of medical tourists increased by 25% over the 12 months and will continue to grow over the next 6-12 months.

Dentistry is the most popular service with dental treatments such as crowns, dental implants, bridges and veneers leading the way. Over 20,000 Brits travel abroad for their teeth, spending around £2,500 each, with an estimated market value of over £50 million per annum.

Cosmetic surgery is a close second with around 14,500 patients travelling outside the UK. Breast augmentation, tummy tuck, liposuction and facelift are popular choices; patients spend around £3,500 each, creating an estimated market size of £50 million.

The most common types of elective surgery for patients travelling abroad are hip replacement, knee replacement, laser eye surgery and cataract removal, with some 10,000 patients spending £37 million in 2007.

New association formed for medical tourism

At the recent World Health Tourism Congress in Cyprus, the launch of the International Medical Travel Association (IMTA) was announced.

The IMTA seeks to represent the interests of medical travellers and the medical travel industry including healthcare providers and medical travel facilitators. The association currently has 26 registered members from across the world. Dr Steven Tucker, Medical Director of the West Clinic Excellence Cancer Centre in Singapor, is the President of the IMTA.

How successful the organisation will be in developing internationally accepted standards and codes of conduct for medical tourism.....who knows?

The medical tourism market is very fragmented consisting of many minor players such as doctors, dentists and individual clinics and various medical tourism "facilitators"and hospital groups. As yet, no one company has attempted to take a really significant share of the market. It's likely that those who take the lead in this fast emerging market will be the standard setters which others will follow.