What is Medical Tourism


When people travel from one place to another place, from one country to other country in order to receive some form of medical treatment is called medical tourism.

People when feel that some or the other treatment is to better is taken in other country keeping an eye on various factors like cost effectiveness, better treatments, etc. cross international borders and benefit the health system in that country, such tourism is termed as Medical Tourism. Such treatments can either be non existent there or must not meet the terms of people traveling to other countries. Previously this was common among the citizens from less-developed countries traveling to first world countries like the United states. But due to rapid development in the health systems around the world, various other factors affect the tourism there.


For those without health insurance or high deductibles, medical tourism represents a convenient and beneficial alternative. For Americans, the most common medical tourism destinations include Thailand, Mexico, India, and Cuba. In many of these developing countries, medical tourism represents a lucrative and a rising source of economic revenue. Countries actually do compete for medical tourists. At present, there is not any recognized definition of medical tourism exits. Some country count foreign patients visit hospitals, whereas some countries count the entry of individual patients inside the country as the medical tourism. There have been however several attempts to define “medical tourism”. There is some selected definition of medical tourism are following as:


According to OECD, 2011, ” When consumers elect to travel across international borders to receive some form of medical treatment, which may span the full range of medical services.”


Why do people travel?

In order to understand the mindset of people travelling abroad to avail some or the other treatments, we must go through the factors that is pushing this industry to make billions for the host country. These factors vary from person to person and can be an individual choice too, beyond reasons.

Cost effective:


The most common reason amongst the tourists is the availability of certain treatment at a lower cost than that of their country. Traditionally, people travelled from poorly developed  to wealthier countries in search of advanced medical attention. The flow has almost reversed today. But now, citizens of wealthy countries hunt for healthcare facilities in less developed areas where services are less expensive, more accessible and of higher quality. The cost of care is one of the most important metrics for destination attractiveness. Naturally, it’s a major driver of health travel


Patients travel overseas seeking a high quality of healthcare. But the most basic reason to go to a third world country is the cost. India is blossoming too in the sunshine of Medical Tourism and significant contribution to this is the ease in getting e-Visa for Medical Services. One way to understand is this is to study the differences in average cost of certain treatments compared to the home countries. One example of it is the table below. The differences in prices of procedures is so different that it attracts the US citizens to India giving the economic benefit to India rather than US. This leads to increase in medical tourism in India.








Cost in India ( in $)



Cost in US (in $)


Bone Marrow Transplant

69, 200  2,50, 000

Liver Transplant

69,350 3,00,000

Heart Surgery

8,700 30,00

Dental Implants

900 3500



Often, surgeries in developing countries will cost just a fraction of what one might pay in the USA or the UK. Along with cost savings, a patient can get state-of-the-art technology that is same or even better than western standards giving rise to medical tourism. India is one of the developing countries that is capitalizing on its low costs and highly trained doctors to appeal to these medical tourists.


There are two major sectors in the service quality in the health care sector – technical or mechanical quality and serviceable or functional quality. Technical equipment is at the heart of the patients’ diagnostic procedure, while the functional quality is measured by the services offered by the healthcare centers from the staff, doctors, their assistants, etc. The service quality in medical tourism industry is pivotal in attracting tourisms due to lower labor costs and high professional skills among the labors in the host country like India.

There are various reasons as to why  foreign hospitals charge less for treatments like  lower labor costs, little to no third party involvement, transparency in package pricing, limited collaborations between health care facilities and physicians, and lower costs of malpractice cases.


Treatment types


Categories of different treatments and their availability also represent an important factor in decision to undertake medical treatment abroad. The most common types of procedures for which patients pursue medical tourism trips are elective cosmetic surgery, dentistry, organ transplantation, cardiac surgery and orthopedic surgery.


However, a wide variety of medical procedures can be obtained through medical tourism, ranging from various essential treatments to different kinds of traditional and alternative treatments. Reproductive tourism and reproductive outsourcing are on rise, which is the practice of traveling to a better off country to engage in surrogate pregnancy, in vitro fertilization and other assisted reproductive technology methods.




One other major factor responsible for the increase of medical tourism is access. The lack of it, either due to the unavailability of the technology or the inaccessibility by a wide population in the home country, can subsequently lead to medical tourism. The common examples are cytoplasmic transfer or stem cell therapy.

Stem cell tourism which is a form medical tourism  the internet based-industry in which shows the darker side of medical tourism. In the majority of cases resulting in patients and families traveling overseas to obtain procedures that are not good, or part of an FDA approved clinical trial. These procedures are fake and results in physical, economic and mental loses of patients travelling.


Most favorable destinations for Medical Tourism

Medical tourism market was worth over $37 billion in 2019. For the medical tourism destinations and healthcare providers, the competition is tough, requiring an interplay of factors to drive medical travel and improve their system in the medical tourism market.

Using the metrics of top quality health system, affordable rates, here are the top 10 medical tourism destinations in the world.






Canada is ranked number one in the medical tourism favorite destinations which is also the second-largest country in the world boasting a robust tourism industry. This country attracts a large number of tourists and patients who seek to bypass the long wait times and high healthcare costs at home.




As of 2019, more than 500,000 foreign tourists visited Singapore due to its affordable and quality healthcare services making the country second most favorable for medical tourism. Singapore previously set up International Patient Service Centers (IPSCs) which acted as the medical travel agencies to mediate between international patients and Singaporean healthcare providers.




Japan is my number one of the most developed healthcare systems in the world. Leading recent advances in technology and medicine, Japan continues to deliver high quality healthcare services to citizens and foreign tourists, most of which come from mainland China.

According to the Japan’s Foreign Ministry, the number of medical visas issued to international patients jumped from 70 in 2011 to 1,650 in 2018.




Spain is known as one of the most visited tourist destinations in the world, with a tourist profile that pulls tens of millions of tourists every year as it offers foreign patients excellent healthcare services with a beautiful travel experience. Spain is attracting a growing number of international tourists from the Middle East, North Africa, and the British islands.


United Kingdom


The UK ranks fifth which is a home to renowned medical institutions including the London Orthopedic Clinic, Birmingham Children’s Hospital, and the Cambridge Complex Orthopedic Trauma Center, known for top-quality healthcare services.


United Kingdoms is also a favorable tourist destination center, welcoming more than 31 million international tourists every year, many of whom are attracted to the rich cultural heritage of the Great Britain.




Dubai, known for its ultramodern architecture, high-rise buildings, and luxury shopping. Dubai, with a population of more than 9.4 million welcomes more than 10 million Medical tourists every year. The congenial environment and beauty of Dubai gives a boost to travel experience for millions of international patients that arrive Dubai for medical emergencies. Dubai gets medical tourists mainly from Asia and neighboring Arab and Gulf countries, and some trips from European and African nations.


Costa Rica


Costa Rica, known for its beautiful sights and competitive prices welcomes millions of medical tourists from neighboring countries including the US and Canada. This Central American country has ranked high in dentistry and cosmetic surgery – above Canada and US – consistently in the last few years.

Cost of healthcare services in Costa Rica is 45% to 65% lower as compared to the US, saving patients a lot of money.




Citing the large pool of tourists that visit the Dead Sea and the massive drift of medical tourists seeking IVF and other fertility treatments in the country, Israel is ranked high in international reputation, patient experience and the quality of healthcare


Abu Dhabi


The capital city and the largest emirate in the United Arab Emirate, Abu Dhabi, has built a strong medical tourism system that is best in the middle East. The emirate launched the Abu Dhabi Medical Tourism e-portal in 2019 which provided international patients the  details of all the medical offerings and healthcare facilities in the city. Potential patients can also access medical tourism insurance packages available in Abu Dhabi as well as other tourist services such as hotel bookings, transportation, and recreational activities via the e-portal.

Besides enjoying the scenic views and the beautiful tourist attraction sites in Abu Dhabi, patients get medic services at a very affordable rates.




India is one of the major players in the Asian medical tourism industry growing more and more day by day becoming one of the most visited countries for health care, with an expanded visa policy that makes it easy to travel for medical tourists. The medical visa policy allows patients to stay up to 60 days and also offers a medical attendant visa for blood relatives that wish to give company the patients which had increased the medical tourism in India.

The Indian government launched a medical tourism portal to provide patients the access to their network of healthcare facilities and a list of medical services available inside the country. This allows patients schedule appointments with healthcare brands and even book for other services including accommodation and recreational activities before their arrival.



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