COVID-19 has definitely had a very significant impact on medical travel, and for a short period, it completely stopped around the world. When the pandemic hit and halted outbound medical travel, domestic medical tourism did get traction, but now the interest is shifting back overseas, highlighted Jonathan Edelheit, CEO of the Medical Tourism Association.
In an interview with Omnia Health Magazine, he shared: “Some countries were able to bounce back quickly and are now doing the same or more business than they did pre-pandemic. There’s a lot of optimism with the vaccine coming around. We see a lot more bookings and investment, and companies are moving forward with medical tourism.”
One of the recent buzzwords has been vaccine tourism. This involves travelling to countries where people can quickly get access and make an appointment to get a vaccine shot.
Edelheit said: “One of the biggest challenges with the COVID-19 vaccine is that it is not available everywhere in the world. There are a lot of countries that don’t have access to it. Also, people are looking to get a specific vaccine. For instance, there has been a lot of demand for Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.”
He explained that medical travellers visiting the U.S. could get an appointment for Pfizer or Moderna almost immediately. Previously the wait time was between four to eight weeks, but as most people in the U.S. have been vaccinated now, a vaccine appointment is available almost immediately. “I think that more people would travel to get vaccines to different countries if they had the confidence and know that they can visit the country of their choice and book an appointment through a trusted source,” he added.
Another term that has been doing the rounds is vaccine passports or COVID-19 testing passports that airlines are using now, which will play a key role in boosting medical travel. He said: “Vaccine passports will be a game-changer to really get medical travel back up and running.”
Boosting medical travel
Some other strategies that can be applied to reviving medical travel include employing technology and building confidence, safety, trust, and accreditation. Edelheit shared the example of the Global Healthcare Accreditation organisation that accredits top hospitals globally in terms of the international patient experience they offer and factors such as transparency, pricing, and other areas. “I think accreditations like these are essential,” he emphasised.
Typically, medical travel does not make it easy for patients to connect with doctors and hospitals. As COVID-19 saw an accelerated adoption of telemedicine, hospitals or governments offering medical travel services will have to consider the technology that is at their disposal and ensure it can be implemented easily. It is also essential for telemedicine to eliminate the frustration that bureaucratic processes can cause and break down the barriers.
Interestingly, he shared that during the pandemic, a lot of plastic surgery was being done. However, there is a lot of pent-up demand for patients who require complex care but have been putting it off. “For patient’s that require complex care, we’re going to see a lot of it move through medical tourism, as more patients become vaccinated,” he concluded.