Medical tourism is a booming global trend, one that is ruling the roost with rising consumer willingness to travel for advanced healthcare services. The development of the information technology system and shifting consumer preferences have created a ripple effect. Medical tourism is positioned as a new investment hub delivering high added values to various countries. In essence, cosmetic surgery medical tourism has become the next big thing among consumers warranting overseas treatment. Fortune Business Insights™ states the market for medical tourism could garner USD 53.51 billion by 2028 at a CAGR of 21.2% during the forecast period.
Medical tourism is an act of traveling to seek economical or specialized medical care, recuperation, and well-being. Whether the destination is a neighboring country or an exotic resort halfway around the globe, consumers are profoundly cashing in on the upsides of medical tourism. Medical tourism is witnessing exponential growth on the back of favorable regulations. Here are some of the pointers, included but not limited to, elucidating the American Medical Association guidelines for overseas medical care:
- Patients need to have access to physician licensing and outcomes data and facility accreditation
- The cost of follow-up care upon return must be included in the coverage for travel outside the U.S. for care
- HIPAA guidelines should be complied with when transferring patient medical records
- Patients have the right to be informed of rights and legal recourse before traveling outside the U.S.
Some of the most common types of procedures patients undergo in overseas, included but not limited to, are:
- Cosmetic surgery
- Heart surgery
- Dental procedures and surgery
- Stem cell therapy
- Weight Loss
- Sex reassignment
Cosmetic Surgery: Trend or a Fad?
Traveling for healthcare reasons was the next big thing until the COVID-19 pandemic, jolting travel plans. The healthcare sector has seemingly risen to the new challenges stemming from the pandemic. In doing so, cosmetic surgery could be reshaping how, what, and where work is performed, ramping up virtual healthcare services.
There has been a palpable shift from traveling to more advanced, affluent nations to less developed countries to access health services, mainly spurred by the low-cost treatments prevalent in the latter countries and substantiated by cheap flights.
“Cosmetic tourism” could reshape the global dynamics as it has observed immense popularity amidst the stigma once attached to it. The cosmetic tourism industry for breast augmentation has taken the world by storm. According to Cleveland Clinic, breast augmentation tends to have high satisfaction rates. However, it advises assessing the pros and cons of having the surgery. Citing data, the organization states that approximately 300,000 Americans have breast augmentation surgery every year. Breast implant options, such as silicone breast implants, saline breast implants, round breast implants, and textured breast implants, have become massively popular in overseas.
Consumers have exhibited an immense inclination for low-cost cosmetic surgery, leading patients to prioritize price over safety. According to the 2020 statistics from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the average cost of breast augmentation surgery is USD 4,516. According to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery’s Global Survey 2020, around 1,624,281 breast augmentation surgical procedures were performed while liposuction procedures stood at 1,525,197. The organization also claimed that around 4,667,931 procedures were performed in the U.S. while nearly 2 million procedures were observed in Brazil.
Considering the trend for medical tourism, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) introduced guidelines for patients seeking treatment abroad. The health governing body claims flying after surgery could amplify the risk for blood clots. The CDC recommends that patients who had surgeries of eyelids, face or nose should abstain from air travel for minimum of seven days.
With the quest for beauty gaining traction, cosmetic procedures could be a trend surgeons seek, or it may be a fad for critics.
Blockchain on the Horizon in Healthcare
With healthcare becoming more patient-centric, blockchain technology has permeated the healthcare sector and created a seismic shift in the global medical tourism industry. Blockchain can streamline the management of electronic health record systems and create advanced medical devices. Amidst soaring competitiveness in the industry, blockchain could be the game-changer to reduce healthcare costs and bolster quality care. A study by researchers at Cambridge University asserted that incorrect or modified clinical trial data could be detected by a unique code generated by the blockchain system. Given that the technology could help build trust for flourishing medical tourism, it could be worth a bet.
An unprecedented rise in clinical trials, patient medical records, and data surge have furthered the need for blockchain. The proliferation of information from wearables, mobile devices, and EHR could be streamlined through the technology. In addition, blockchain could prove to be fruitful for smart contracts between providers and patients and payers and providers. The safety and security of the transaction and doing away with the exorbitant intermediary provide a lucrative portfolio for stakeholders.
While the technology is brimming with growth, it is still in its nascent stage in the healthcare sector. The blockchain-based solution could be a viable tool for recommendations and is on course to provide transparent access to healthcare.
Several patients seek medical care abroad to access faster care, better technology, and specialized treatment potentially unavailable in their country. Major drivers that hold prominence in encouraging patients to prefer overseas treatment are:
- Better quality care
- Shorter waiting periods
- Cosmetic services
- Access to services not available or approved in their country
A palpable trend for medical tourism operators has also become pronounced over the past few years. Facilitators, such as medical travel planners, travel agencies, and hotel groups, are exploring opportunities in the healthcare tourism sector.
There is no denying that the practical and financial upsides of medical tourism have triggered a wave of innovation in the treatment abroad. Meanwhile, the Achilles heel of medical treatment overseas could be hard to ignore. The prevalence of poorly trained surgeons, quality of staff, and the facility could prompt patients to take a backward step.
Looking Ahead: Opportunities for Consumers
The rapid evolution of medical tourism has accentuated the need for collaborations among governments, insurance companies, providers, tourism operators, and consumers. For instance, insurance companies could offer additional products that can incentivize patients inclined to travel. Consumers could seek high-quality, low-cost, and offshore treatment options to streamline access to care.
As patients seek treatment abroad, the following major questions could help boost decision making:
- Are personal health records or other electronic tools available to facilitate coordination?
- Are medical equipment and clinical information technologies up-to-date? Is the foreign medical site internationally accredited?
- How much and what type of additional access is needed through medical tourism services?
The growth of medical tourism is well poised to be spurred by consumerism, quality, cost, and foreign economic development. Stakeholders are likely to turn potential adversities into opportunities through careful planning and investments in innovations.