Impact of Medical Tourism in the Accessibility of Health Care

We hear about medical tourism and often in disparaging terms. But while there may be legitimate concerns about the phenomenon, the greater problem may be that the concept is ill-defined, and that can taint types of transnational healthcare likely to prove crucial to raising healthcare standards all over the globe. These distinctions should be clarified to prevent friction and resistance to beneficial types of healthcare care globalization.


Medical tourism has, to some extent, been described by hype around the notion of rich Americans visiting other nations for operations at cheaper and, in many cases, without significant chance of worse outcomes. This way of medical tourism is essentially shopping internationally for the best deal. An industry has sprung up to facilitate and aggressively promote this, marketing it to prospective customers with sophisticated advertising and marketing efforts. And a number of hospitals and clinics all over the globe have created strong profit facilities by providing these services to international sufferers. This way of healthcare travel and leisure can clearly present economic benefits to a small amount of the patient population and a handful of healthcare organizations. It does little to affect, one way or the other, the general availability, quality or cost of healthcare.

Also sometimes lumped into medical tourism is loosely the converse: overseas sufferers visiting U.S. healthcare facilities for the best care available. These sufferers, who also are typically rich, seek leading specialists or access to expertise, equipment and facilities that aren’t available in their own nations. It’s technically true that this way of transnational medicine is making better care available, but again to such a small amount of the inhabitants that it can’t be regarded as helping increase international healthcare quality.

What’s more, by giving a small but influential segment of a nation’s inhabitants, an opportunity to receive top-notch care outside their own nation, this might, in theory, be reducing the motivation to address healthcare shortcomings at home. It’s tempting to dismiss these types of medical tourism as in some way unseemly, given the questions of equity they raise. But resentment of medical tourism brings the chance of closing the door on a way of transnational healthcare that could have a large, positive effect on international quality, accessibility and safety. Less-developed nations and healthcare organizations that need to strengthen their own systems are increasingly turning to the U.S. for advice and assistance.

Author: Aaron Jay Lev

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