Benefits of Medical Tourism
The practice of travelling to distant lands to access medical care is considered to be as old as civilisation itself. Modern history is full of anecdotes of people visiting spas and sanatoriums to recover from various illnesses such as tuberculosis, bronchitis and liver disorders. A concept once exclusively associated with chronic diseases for which cure was not widely available, medical travel has now come to cover a wide array of medical needs. Feeding into this phenomenon or facilitating this practice are the comparative costs, high quality, the ease and availability of treatment in countries other than of one's own origin.
Cost is a significant factor as to why people seek to go on medical travel. A specialised surgery in developing countries such as India costs perhaps one-tenth or less than that of what it costs in developed countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom or some European countries. Added to this is the value of sightseeing and holidaying in the host country which would still cost people much less than the total cost of treatment in their own country. The boom in airline industry and the ease of travel to foreign countries has created a conducive environment for medical travel to flourish.
Ease and availability of treatment is a critical point in why people choose medical travel. Many hospitals in developed countries, have long waiting lists of patients for surgery, their implication for the patient's health not withstanding. Patients in Canada for example, have to wait for a minimum period of 16 weeks for cataract surgery. The same procedure can be undergone in a different country within in a matter of days.
Several international bodies provide accreditation to hospitals based on quality assessment. This helps to ensure that healthcare standards are not compromised while catering to medical tourism. But on the flip side, accreditation systems followed by organisations vary and this remains a subject of controversy despite the roaring success of many countries in demonstrating the viability of medical travel.
Insurance is an important determinant for patients while opting for medical travel. Many invasive orthopaedic procedures such as knee and hip replacement are not covered by insurance in their native countries. With health insurance out of the question for a large majority of people even in the developed countries, medical travel is a cost-effective option.
Medical travel is sought after not just for the above benefits but also for the opportunity it affords to travel and visit foreign lands. The patient can convalesce in the serene surroundings of the host country in a way that is physically and for some, spiritually, uplifting and satisfying.
Intermediary agencies commonly referred to as Medical Tourism Providers facilitate the process of linking up the patient and medical services and in deciding the package available for the patient. In this way, much of the decision-making is eased for the patient and his/her family. A person enrolling for medical travel provides the Medical Tourism Providers his/her medical report and a distant diagnosis is made by medical consultants who also recommend the treatment. The agencies then prepare a mutually acceptable package in which the location, the hospital, the doctor, the duration of stay are negotiated by the patient with the agency. The patient is then recommended for a medical visa which needs to be cleared by the country's embassy.
India is a hot spot in the Medical Tourism circuit, thanks to the low cost of treatment, access to new technologies and maintenance of high quality standards by hospitals. Since English is widely spoken and understood in India, language does not become a barrier for patients from the US, UK, Australia or other parts of Asia. India is opted for several medical procedures and treatment including bypass surgery, bone-marrow transplant, orthopaedic surgery and alternative medicines. Coronary bypass surgery is performed in India for a fraction of what it costs in the United States, by highly qualified doctors with the help of state-of-the-art technology. Testimonials from patients who have undergone cardiac surgery in India suggest that the facilities and care available in India are easily comparable with those available in the developed countries of the world.
Germany is another favoured destination for medical tourists, especially for those from the Middle East. The German advantage is that it has a large number of hospitals to address the medical needs of the people without putting them on a unduly long waiting list. While standards are high, cost of treatment is still half of what it comes to in the US.
It is not surprising then that medical travel, or medical tourism has become a recognised and respectable practice not just in India and Germany but in many other countries as well.