As we emerge from the pandemic, medical travel is slowly bouncing back. Right from IVF and cosmetic and plastic surgery to dentistry, orthopaedic surgery, cardiac surgery, oncology, and organ transplantation, patients worldwide are once again expanding their horizons when it comes to healthcare.
Recent reports have highlighted that the global medical tourism market is expected to reach US$54,201.88 million by 2027, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.23 per cent between 2022 and 2027.
There are several reasons why people look beyond borders for treatment options. Research has found that almost 56 per cent of patients want better treatment, while 22 per cent want to pay less. Also, 18 per cent of patients are seeking treatment options that are not available in their home countries, and 10 per cent want the treatment as soon as possible and without waiting in line. Furthermore, as the global disease burden continues to rise, patients are looking for enhanced personalised wellness programmes, bringing medical wellness tourism into focus.
Medical travel hotspots
Several countries have shown promising growth over the past years, in part due to their breathtaking landscapes. Canada ranks first on the 2020-2021 Medical Tourism Index thanks to its serene surroundings and world-class medical services. However, several other countries are also making their mark on the industry. Below we dive deeper into some of the most sought-after medical travel destinations.
Reportedly, the number of foreign patients in India grows by 25 per cent annually on average. One of the primary reasons for its popularity is that the treatment costs here are less than in other developed countries, and wait times are non-existent. Many of the country’s private facilities are Joint Commission International (JCI) certified, highlighting that stringent international standards are maintained. Some of the most popular treatments for which people visit India include bone-marrow transplants, bariatric and obesity surgery, eye surgery, cardiac surgery, cancer treatment, gynaecological issues, and hip grafting and replacement surgery. Moreover, people can opt for alternative medicine, such as ayurveda and naturopathy, to recover more holistically.
The land of the rising sun ranks third in the Medical Tourism Index. In 2018, 31.19 million international tourists visited the country for medical procedures. On the one hand, the country’s healthcare facilities are equipped with state-of-the-art medical technologies; on the other, it has several great tourist attractions, making it a must-visit. But it is important to highlight that medical procedures are often quite expensive here. The reason why Japan ranks highly on the list is thanks to its advanced medical facilities and a higher standard of treatment.
According to the Medical Tourism Index, Singapore ranks second among the top 46 destinations. The country reportedly receives around 500,000 visitors annually and is renowned for its cardiology, haematology, oncology, neurology, stem cell therapy, and orthopaedic treatments. It is counted among the safest cities for receiving state-of-the-art medical support and has one of the highest numbers of JCI accredited hospitals. Reports have found that treatments, such as heart bypass surgery, would cost between US$16,000 to US$25,000 here, compared to the United States, where it costs a whopping US$123,000. So, patients can save about 25 per cent to 40 per cent in treatment expenses.
According to reports, the country has the highest rating on organ transplants, with a donation rate of 36 donors per million people. The World Health Organization (WHO) ranks Spain as the seventh best healthcare destination in Europe. It has been reported that patients can save between 30 per cent to 70 per cent of costs compared to US, UK, and Canada. Besides, as one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, Spain makes an ideal getaway for those looking to explore the country’s rich culture while undergoing treatments such as orthopaedic surgery, dentistry, cosmetic surgery, eyesight surgery, and obesity surgery.
A well-established tourism destination, more than nine per cent of Thailand’s GDP is attributed to medical tourism. Estimates suggest that over three million people visit Thailand every year to avail themselves of the country’s medical facilities. Treatments here cost 50 per cent to 80 per cent less as compared to the West. Patients from the United States, Middle East, Vietnam and Laos make up a huge chunk of those seeking LASIK, cosmetic surgery such as anti-ageing treatments and IVF. The country is also well-known for its hospitality, and it boasts a highly skilled medical workforce that’s been educated primarily in Europe. Even for some of the most complex and multi-stage treatments and surgeries, patients rarely have to wait in long queues. Its beautiful beaches and rejuvenating natural landscapes are other reasons why Thailand continues to be a preferred medical travel destination.
Turkey is well-regarded as a popular medical travel destination and is known for its hair transplants, cosmetic surgery, oncology, and IVF treatments, among others. The country offers affordable procedures, high-quality care, and access to top-notch medical care. Medical procedures in the country reportedly cost 70 per cent less than those in the US. The staff of most healthcare institutions is well-trained and board-certified. Another advantage of getting treated in Turkey is that it offers visa-free travel to over 70 countries.
United Arab Emirates
Over the past few years, the UAE has become a budding destination for medical travel. In 2021, the country welcomed over 630,000 medical tourists. This growth can be attributed to its recent medical care accomplishments, and the ease with which visitors can book medical procedures and take advantage of discounted airfares, visa, medical insurance, hotels stay, leisure activities and more. The country has evolved into a medical travel hub thanks to its proximity to Europe and the Middle East. Compared to the US and UK, patients here can save between 30 per cent to 40 per cent in costs for the same procedures. According to reports, the country’s medical travel market is expected to go up to AED 19 billion this year. Some of the most commonly performed procedures here are gynaecological procedures, liposuction, rhinoplasty, micro-needling, Botox, and bariatric surgery, among others.
The way forward
The global medical travel industry is evolving rapidly, and patients’ behaviour and preferences are creating more dynamism in the market. The good news is, with most travel restrictions being lifted, people are on the lookout for enhanced treatment options. Over the next few years, newer destinations with interesting offerings and more value will emerge, and cutting-edge technology will drive innovation in products and services and enhance patient outcomes.
Dr. Raza Siddiqui is the CEO of Arabian Healthcare Group.
This article appears in the Daily Dose 2023. Read the full issue online today.