Medical tourism: Trends for 2012 and beyond

To keep things simple, this blog has moved to the IMTJ web site. You can find the Health Tourism Blog here in future. Here's an extract of the latest blog post entitled: "Medical tourism: Trends for 2012 and beyond"

Medical tourism: Trends for 2012 and beyond
Christmas is over, the New Year is upon us, so it’s time to dust off the crystal ball and put forward our take on what’s in store for medical tourism in 2012 and beyond. We’ve looked at the future of medical tourism from three perspectives – the market, the patient and the industry 

The market

The global economic downturn and medical tourism
Forecasts for the global economy are not encouraging....recession in Europe, anaemic growth in the US and slow growth in the emerging market economies is anticipated for 2012 (Morgan Stanley: 2012 Outlook). If you are in the medical tourism sector, you need to understand some of the fundamental trends that affect businesses and markets in a recession.

  • In the mature, developed economies (e.g. USA, Europe) continued unemployment and pressure on disposable income will influence demand in 2012. Consumers will minimise or reduce spending on healthcare where they can. This does not mean that hard pressed consumers will be flocking abroad for their operations to save money. Many will delay treatment, or in the case of “optional surgery” such as cosmetic surgery, they may not be able to afford it at all. Domestic prices for surgery will be driven down as hospitals apply marginal costing and prices to fill empty beds. In areas of treatment, where the need for treatment is “income-inelastic”, demand for medical tourism services will remain strong.  Patients will continue to dig deep for services such as infertility treatment, stem cell treatment, and for surgery which is essential, life-saving or life changing.
  • In emerging markets (such as Russia, China), the growth in incomes (and freedom to spend) is outstripping the development of domestic healthcare services and this may drive demand for medical tourism and present new opportunities.
The big question is whether corporate or insurer paid medical travel will get off the ground in 2012. Will employers and insurers see medical travel as a realistic and credible option to reduce healthcare costs. And will their client and subscriber base actually “buy in” to the medical travel option if it is offered to them?

Medical tourism..... global healthcare or regional medicine?
In 2012, there’s a risk that we get distracted by the trumpeting of “global healthcare”. It’s a nice turn of phrase, but in the real world, medical tourism is about regional medicine and cross-border healthcare; this is not going to change in 2012. In fact, the boundaries of medical travel may be drawn in, as travel costs increase. As travel costs climb, the concept of long distance medical tourism becomes less attractive. The imposition of hefty departure taxes in countries such as the UK, Germany  and elsewhere will reduce the cost advantages of some destinations.

If you are in the medical tourism business, ALWAYS remember that, for most patients, going abroad for treatment is a decision of last resort. AND that the further a patient has to go... further from their own country....further from their own culture... the greater is the actual and perceived risk. The patient needing major surgery who takes a five hour flight to a country with a different language and a different culture is a comparative rarity.

So is it medical tourism boom.... or bust?
The honest answer to this one.... is probably neither.  In recent years, we’ve listened to the hype........ find out more about "Medical tourism: Trends for 2012 and beyond", read the full medical tourism article at IMTJ.