Medical Tourism and Spas – Some Surprises
by Susie Ellis, SpaFinder Insider
Though I posted a lot of Tweets sharing what I was learning during the Medical Tourism Congress I attended in LA last week, when I returned home my sister asked me an interesting question. She wanted to know, “what surprised you?” It forced me to compare my perceptions before attending the Congress with my understanding afterward. Here then are some things that surprised me…
1. The medical tourism industry is younger than I thought. On the “s” curve where you look at an industry as developing from infancy, to childhood, to teen years of rapid growth, then maturity and eventually decline…well, it appears medical tourism is still in diapers.
2. One woman told me that many who attended the Congress last year weren’t here this year. She assumed they had either opted out of the field or their businesses didn’t make it. This jives with the speaker from Deloitte who explained that the latest medical tourism statistics show less medical travel this year than last year. He also mentioned that in emerging industries the first entrepreneurs don’t always make it. The second round of players often do much better.
3. Given the lackluster results from this year, I was very surprised that Deloitte is predicting an increase of 35% in medical tourism for the next three years!
4. There is quite a bit of stereotyping going on (not from the stage of course), but in many of my ‘offline’ conversations. All of this was a surprise to me because I had never considered that a country might have a medical tourism “personality.” Here is a smattering of what I heard:
· The Korean medical tourism industry is all about medical and not at all about tourism. Their focus is on giving the world the impression that they are leaders in advanced medical care.
· The Filipino medical tourism industry is emphasizing health and wellness over complex medical operations. The Filipinos are caregivers and almost all speak English. They are very nurturing. The Philippines is developing into an ideal place where the medical traveler can include touring and a spa vacation.
· India is the most advanced country in terms of medical tourism. People go there for complex medical surgeries – and once a medical traveler is out of after-patient care, they want to head home. Forget tourism. The ambiance in India is more conducive to people from Asia and the Middle East – not so much for Americans.
· Brazilian medical tourism is primarily about aesthetics and the tall good-looking woman who I spoke with was a very good example of what everyone would like to look like when they come back.
· A gentleman from Malaysia
told me that the medical doctors there are afraid of spas. They consider them unregulated establishments without enough expertise to handle medical patients. Therefore they do not want to mix spa and medicine.
5. I was surprised to learn that there is a whole segment of medical tourism that targets citizens of the U.S. who are from other countries. Many Asian-Americans, Mexican-Americans, and other nationalities increasingly combine a trip “home” with a medical procedure. Insurance companies are beginning to encourage this, as it saves them money.
6. I was surprised to learn that it is cheaper to get on an airplane, fly to Barcelona for an MRI, take a spa vacation and fly back – then it is to have the MRI in most places in the U.S. There will be a growing group of people who will opt to do medical tests in a foreign country because of the cost savings.
7. I was surprised to learn how important electronic portable record keeping is to galvanizing the medical tourism industry. In fact Bumrungrad
, the famous hospital in Bangkok, has teamed up with Microsoft
and is installing Health Vault
8. We are starting to have employer-led growth of medical tourism.
9. Turkish Airlines uses empty seats for medical tourists giving the patient and their companion 25% off.
10. There is a dark side to medical tourism….things like organ trafficking and a very troubling story I heard from a medical doctor in attendance about the Chinese paying women to become pregnant who are then aborted at later stages and whose organs and/or stem cells are harvested to treat diseases.
Wow…we are entering a new frontier.
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