Medical tourism is on the rise across the world, driven by the increasing cost of health care services in many developed economies, coupled with falling costs for international travel. The global market was valued at $16.8bn in 2018 and at the time was expected to grow to $27.2bn by 2024. While disruptions to international travel triggered by the global spread of Covid-19 in early 2020 could delay this acceleration somewhat, the underlying fundamentals are robust. Patients are choosing to visit other countries for a broad array of both essential and elective medical procedures, with fertility tourism representing one of the fastest-growing segments, followed by dental care and cosmetic surgery. The choice to seek treatment overseas is motivated by a number of factors including reduced costs, shorter waiting times, greater quality and availability of care, and access to specialists. While the majority of these flows are regional – with, for example, US patients travelling to Mexico for dental and cosmetic treatment – there are other destinations, such as Thailand and South Korea, that attract medical tourists from all over the world.
Opportunities & Challenges
The growth of the industry presents both new challenges and opportunities for destination countries, according to the World Health Organisation. The medical practitioners and resources deployed for the treatment of foreign visitors may reduce provision to local populations. Nevertheless, medical travel can also benefit local communities through improved infrastructure and by incentivising medical professionals to remain in their country of origin, rather than travel overseas in search of employment.