Medical tourism used to be tiny and only for the wealthy. Now it's 'Medical Travel' and it's growing, fast.
Leaving home for care is nothing new. People have been traveling around the world for treatment since the beginning of time. Now we call it medical tourism, and it is growing quickly.
Patients seek care away from home because it is cheaper, unavailable in their home location, can be accessed without waiting for a long time, can be combined with a travel experience and can be kept secret. Despite the talk of healthcare reform, patients and employers are paying more for care with no forseeable decreases and they are looking for safe, affordable alternatives to care in the US.
There are several serious barriers to adoption and penetration of the notion of leaving home for care. In fact, we're not even sure what to call it these days. "Medical tourism" has morphed into global healthcare referral or medical travel, underlying the fact that we are talking about healthcare in a different place, not sipping Margueritas by the pool. The growth of the industry is being fueled by mostly medical outsiders who see the commercial potential of opportunities that have resulted from medical cost inflation, globalization and cheap information and communications technologies.
There are lots of opportunties for physicians in the medical travel industry. Substantial challenges to the traditional notions of face-to-face care, continuity of care, itinerant surgery and global healthcare information exchange are but a few of the issues that the medical provider establishment will have to confront as medical travel continues to grow around the world.