A colorful facet of globalization has been the blurring of international boundaries, allowing individuals to travel across country lines with ease to enjoy services and unique cultural phenomena different from their own. Healthcare has become one such sought-after service in the international marketplace, as standards of medical modernization and health outcomes have risen collectively across the global community. This industry, which has been formalized as “medical tourism,” and has thrived due to the work of various organizing bodies, brings with it numerous important considerations.

What is Medical Tourism?

Medical tourism refers plainly to the act of traveling to a foreign country to receive medical care. But this industry is by no means ordinary; rather, it constitutes a robust marketplace, expected to reach nearly $165 million USD by 2023. For many countries, this profit opportunity is visibly a priority, as many tourism agencies and travel partners actively market, sell, and cater to foreigners availing medical services in specific countries.

Generally, the industry caters to those that are seeking cosmetic procedures, restorative therapies, or high risk techniques. There are many reasons why individuals may seek these types of care abroad, including the fact that certain countries have been specifically recognized as leaders in specific areas of modern medicine. For example, the United States is well recognized for its treatment of specialized chronic conditions and mental health, due to its advanced medical research and infrastructure. Barbados is renowned for its affordable and cutting edge fertility treatments. Brazil is a highly sought-after destination for plastic and cosmetic surgery, thanks to its low cost structures and lax oversight. Thailand also attracts large numbers of individuals for cosmetic and elective care, partially due to its commitment to being a large travel hub in Asia, as well as its reputed hospitals and physicians. Cuba is known for its relatively inexpensive general and rehabilitative care. India offers specialized surgeries and complex procedures at highly discounted prices (as compared with the United States), therefore attracting a huge percent of medical tourists, as well as international physicians that want to take advantage of the business opportunity.

Ultimately, the decision calculus to seek care across borders is seemingly driven by a variety of factors, including price, ease of access, and the perception (whether accurate or not) of more specialized and promising care.