Significant Rise in APAC's and Middle Easts’ Medical Tourism in 2023

June 2, 2023

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The medical tourism industry has grown out of the shadows of pandemic induced slump and is on the verge of significant growth in Asia Pacific region.

Medical Tourism is driven by 3 factors Destination Environment, Medical Tourism Industry and Quality of Facilities & Services[1]

It is a worldwide, multibillion-dollar market that continues to grow with the rising globalization of health care -[2]

In past over a year, 11.4 Million medica tourists visited India and amongst the most preferred treatments/surgeries, were cancer and organ transplant [3]. Korea has committed to increase its' medical tourists to 7 Lakhs a year until 2028 [4], Thailand is hoping to achieve 10 Mn annual medical tourists[5] and tourists visiting Dubai have spent USD 200 Mn [6].

MarketsandMarkets welcomes this development and our editors share their views.

The medical tourism sector in the Asia Pacific region (APAC) is on the verge of significant growth, rather than disruption.

There are several contributing factors and we take a look at Dubai and India for the purpose of understanding here.

Dubai's consistent increase in the number of licensed health facilities and healthcare professionals indicates a robust growth in its healthcare infrastructure. Furthermore, Dubai's Health Authority's efforts to promote and support investments in the healthcare sector is a testament to its commitment to improving healthcare services, thereby attracting medical tourists.

Similarly, India's ongoing efforts to promote itself as a medical tourism hub by organising medical tourism summits, leveraging its traditional healthcare systems, and emphasising the expertise of its healthcare professionals are significant steps towards attracting a higher number of medical tourists. India's cost-effective healthcare services, advanced medical facilities, and the popularity of its traditional systems of medicine can provide a competitive edge in the medical tourism market.

There are also trends of increasing investment in healthcare technology in the UAE and India. Implementations of robotics, AI in diagnosis and treatment, and the development of advanced medical tools such as wearables and virtual reality, are expected to revolutionise healthcare and make it more attractive to medical tourists.

Moreover, the recovery of the medical tourism industry post-pandemic signals the sector's resilience and potential for future growth. While there might have been some fluctuations due to the pandemic, the industry's growth trajectory seems promising.

It's also important to note that there is an increasing trend of patients visiting the UAE and India for specialised treatments, including cosmetic surgeries, oncological services, and fertility treatments. This trend suggests a broadening of the market, which will likely continue to expand as these countries continue to invest in and improve their healthcare services and infrastructure.

The strong growth in healthcare infrastructure, adoption of cutting-edge technologies, and strategic initiatives undertaken by governments to promote their countries as medical tourism destinations, all point towards a surge in medical tourism in the APAC region. While competition among countries in the region will inevitably increase, this is more indicative of a healthy, growing industry rather than one facing disruption.

How do factors of affordability and trustworthiness influence the decision-making process in medical tourism?

Asian countries are often popular destinations for medical tourism due to the cost-effectiveness of their healthcare services. This affordability is attributed to several factors, such as lower costs of living, lower operational costs in healthcare facilities, and advantageous exchange rates for foreign currencies.

In terms of percentages, these differences can be significant. For instance, a heart bypass surgery that might cost over $100,000 in the US could cost between $7,000 and $15,000 in India – a saving of up to 85-90%. Similarly, hip replacement surgery could be done for $6,000 to $7,000 in Thailand, compared to $30,000 to $40,000 in the US – again, a saving of around 70-80%.

Additionally, in Asia, treatments like IVF (In Vitro Fertilization), which could cost around $12,000 per cycle in the US, can be availed for around $3,000 to $5,000 in India, a saving of around 60-75%. Cosmetic surgeries like rhinoplasty or facelift procedures could cost 40-60% less in countries like South Korea compared to the US.

The growth of medical tourism in Asia is not solely due to cost advantages. Trust in the quality and expertise of medical personnel, the robustness of healthcare systems, and the high standards of healthcare facilities play crucial roles as well.

Asian countries like Singapore, South Korea, India, and Thailand, among others, are home to many healthcare professionals who have gained their medical degrees and experience from renowned institutions worldwide. These professionals often maintain their international ties, staying up-to-date with the latest research, technology, and practices in their field.

In addition to the individual qualifications of healthcare professionals, the overall healthcare systems in these countries have also gained global recognition. Countries like Singapore, Japan, and South Korea are known for their efficient and advanced healthcare systems. For instance, Singapore has been ranked among the top healthcare systems by the World Health Organization.

Additionally, many hospitals in Asia are accredited by international bodies such as the Joint Commission International (JCI), which ensures that these facilities meet global standards in terms of quality and safety. For example, as of my knowledge cut-off in September 2021, India had 40 JCI-accredited healthcare facilities. Such recognitions assure international patients of the high standards of care they can expect in these countries.

Also, several countries in Asia have government agencies dedicated to promoting and regulating medical tourism, ensuring a safe and reliable environment for foreign patients. This includes initiatives like streamlined medical visa processes, quality checks, and even grievance redressal mechanisms.

Thus, the combination of lower costs, high standards of care, and reliable systems in Asia, has led to an environment of trust which encourages medical tourists to choose these countries for their healthcare needs.

  1. Asian Medical Tourism Costs:
  2. Trust in Medical Personnel, Doctors, and Systems:

Insights on how India is attracting and earning from Medial Tourists

Over the past decade, India has emerged as a prominent hub for medical tourism, experiencing a significant increase in the number of foreign medical tourists - primarily from Bangladesh and Afghanistan - from 234,000 in 2015 to 495,000 in 2018. The availability of advanced medical facilities, skilled practitioners, and affordable healthcare services has attracted tourists from a variety of other nations, including Iraq, Oman, Maldives, Yemen, Uzbekistan, and Sudan. -

In terms of economic impact, the growth of Medical Value Travel (MVT) has proved to be quite lucrative for India. The country earned considerable foreign exchange from MVT, with an increase from an estimated ₹1,35,193 crore in 2015 to ₹1,77,874 crore in 2017. According to Niti Aayog, India's MVT market was valued at $3 billion in 2015 and was projected to grow by 15%, with estimates suggesting it would hit $9 billion by 2020, accounting for a fifth of the global market share. - https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/explained-why-is-centre-promoting-medical-value-travel-a-look-at-the-billions-worthy-industry-indias-growth/article66789848.ece

However, the COVID-19 pandemic brought a dramatic halt to this upward trajectory. As the virus spread globally in 2020, international arrivals fell sharply, with MVT declining to 183,000 visitors. Amid strict lockdown measures to curb the virus's spread, India's MVT earnings took a significant hit, falling short of the anticipated $9 billion mark. This sudden downturn underscores the broader global impacts of the pandemic on the medical tourism sector.

What is the role of technology in enhancing medical tourism prospects?

The intersection of technology and healthcare is significantly influencing the growth and appeal of the medical tourism sector. Here's an exploration of how various technological advancements are bolstering the prospects of medical tourism:

  1. Improved Healthcare Services: Advanced technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics, and telemedicine have transformed healthcare services, enabling more accurate diagnoses and treatment plans, less invasive surgical procedures, and more efficient service delivery. These technological advancements enhance the overall patient experience and outcomes, making medical tourism more attractive.
  2. Digital Health Records: The adoption of Electronic Health Records (EHRs) has streamlined the process of storing, accessing, and sharing patient data, enhancing coordination and communication among healthcare providers. This is particularly crucial for medical tourists who need to ensure their medical information is accurately conveyed across borders.
  3. Telemedicine: Telemedicine allows for remote patient monitoring, online consultations, and follow-ups, which are especially beneficial for medical tourists. It enables patients to consult with healthcare providers before and after their visit, enhancing continuity of care and convenience.
  4. Digital Platforms and Apps: Various platforms and apps have emerged to facilitate medical tourism. These tools provide a wide range of information and services, such as details about healthcare providers, cost comparisons, online appointment scheduling, visa assistance, and accommodation bookings.
  5. Advanced Medical Devices and Wearables: The emergence of advanced medical devices and wearable technologies allows for continuous monitoring and better management of patients' health conditions. These devices are beneficial for medical tourists, offering a seamless transition of care between their home country and the destination country.
  6. Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR): VR and AR technologies are increasingly being used for patient education and rehabilitation purposes. For medical tourists, these tools can provide virtual tours of hospitals, helping them to make informed decisions about their choice of healthcare provider.

Technology significantly enhances the medical tourism industry by improving the quality of healthcare services, facilitating better communication, offering convenience, and ultimately contributing to better patient outcomes.

 

Which are the top 5 countries in the world in Medical Tourism?

These are the top 5 regions in Medial Tourism -

  1. Canada
  2. Singapore
  3. Japan
  4. Spain
  5. United Kingdom

What makes them successful at Medical Tourism?

Sure, here's some general information about the medical tourism industries in Canada, Singapore, Japan, Spain, and the United Kingdom

Canada is known for its high-quality healthcare system, which is publicly funded and mostly free at the point of use for citizens. While not traditionally a leading destination for medical tourists due to longer wait times for certain procedures, it does attract patients for its excellent standards of care and advanced medical technology. Additionally, Canada is recognized for specific areas of specialty such as cancer treatment and organ transplants.

Singapore is a well-established hub for medical tourism in Asia, offering state-of-the-art medical facilities and a highly trained workforce. The country excels in complex surgical procedures and is known for its high standards of care. As of 2018, Singapore's medical tourism market was worth over $600 million. The country's strategic location, use of English, and reputation for stringent regulatory standards make it an attractive medical tourism destination.

Japan has a technologically advanced healthcare system, and it's a leader in fields like robotic surgery, regenerative medicine, and cancer treatment. While the cost of healthcare in Japan can be high compared to other Asian countries, the quality of care is typically exceptional. As of 2020, Japan had plans to grow its medical tourism industry, focusing on offering advanced treatments unavailable elsewhere.

Spain's healthcare system is widely respected and has been a significant draw for medical tourists from across Europe and beyond. Spain is particularly renowned for its success in organ transplants and offers a wide range of treatments including plastic surgery, fertility treatments, and orthopedic procedures. In 2018, Spain saw an estimated 24,000 health tourists, bringing in a revenue of approximately €600 million.

The UK has a robust healthcare system, with the National Health Service (NHS) being a world-renowned institution. However, the UK is also home to many excellent private hospitals and clinics that attract medical tourists. Particularly, the UK is recognized for its expertise in complex surgical procedures, oncology, cardiology, and neurology. While it might not be the most cost-effective destination for medical tourism, the high standard of care, significant medical advancements, and the use of English are attractive factors for international patients.

  1. Canada:
  2. Singapore:
  3. Japan:
  4. Spain:
  5. United Kingdom:

What are some of the challenges with medical tourism industry?

While the growth of the medical tourism industry has been meteoric, it is not without its fair share of challenges. These obstacles range from concerns over the quality of care to various logistical and legal issues. It is important to approach these challenges from a perspective informed by the insights of industry experts and leading research in the field.

  1. Quality of Care: Medical standards and protocols can vary greatly across countries. Some destinations may not uphold the stringent regulations observed in more developed nations, leading to potential risks in patient safety and treatment outcomes. As mentioned by Dr. Azad Moopen, Chairman of Aster DM Healthcare, “Recent technological advancements and interconnectivity have set a solid foundation for global medical tourism,” emphasizing the critical role of maintaining international standards of care.
  2. Legal and Ethical Issues: Navigating foreign legal systems in cases of post-treatment complications is a complex process. The ethical aspect, too, is significant. There's a concern that local healthcare needs may be sidelined in favor of servicing international patients.
  3. Language Barriers: Communication is integral in healthcare. Language discrepancies can cause misunderstandings, which in turn may compromise patient care.
  4. Travel and Accommodation: Postoperative travel can present serious health risks. Coordinating suitable and affordable lodging, especially for patients needing long-term care, can be a logistical challenge.
  5. Insurance Coverage: Many health insurance plans do not cover overseas treatments, resulting in substantial out-of-pocket expenses.
  6. Post-Procedure Care and Follow-up: There's an urgent need for a globally integrated Hospital Information System for efficient patient follow-up and continuity of care. This is particularly crucial when a patient's treatment begins in one country and continues in another.
  7. Transparency: Finding reliable information about the qualifications and track records of foreign healthcare providers can be difficult.
  8. Infections and Antibiotic Resistance: Medical tourists could potentially contract and spread infections, including those resistant to antibiotics. This not only jeopardizes their recovery but also poses public health risks upon their return.
  9. Cultural Differences: Cultural norms and patient expectations can greatly affect a patient's experience and satisfaction. It's essential for healthcare providers to show cultural competence in addition to clinical expertise.
  10. Data Management: The efficient and confidential management and transfer of medical records is another challenge in this industry.

As these challenges show, it is essential for potential medical tourists to conduct thorough research before making their decision. Collaboration between local and international healthcare providers could be a key strategy to ensure continuity of care and to enhance the overall experience for medical tourists.

Which obstacles faced by the medical tourism industry to create novel opportunities?

In what ways can businesses leverage the obstacles faced by the medical tourism industry to create novel opportunities?

  1. Accreditation Services: There is a unique chance to establish a business that provides international accreditation to hospitals and clinics.
  2. Medical Tourism Facilitators: A comprehensive service that handles all aspects of a medical tourist's journey could be a fruitful business. Think of it as a medical tourism agency, much like Expedia or Booking.com, but for medical journeys. This business would handle every detail, from picking the hospital and arranging travel to finding accommodations and even managing post-care activities.
  3. Online Platforms: A potential opportunity exists in creating an online platform that aggregates and displays comprehensive information about hospitals, procedures, doctors, and patient reviews worldwide. The platform could also include cost estimates and comparisons, similar to how Kayak works for flight and hotel prices.
  4. Telemedicine: With the advent of advanced digital communication platforms, telemedicine is a booming sector. A business could establish a global telemedicine platform that connects patients with doctors from around the world, allowing for pre and post-operative consultations, reducing the need for extended overseas stays.
  5. Insurance Products: Insurance companies have the opportunity to design policies specifically for medical tourists. These policies could cover everything from complications arising post-surgery to travel delays or cancellations, similar to the inclusive policies offered by global insurers such as AIG or Allianz.
  6. Health Tech Startups: Companies could focus on building a platform for seamless sharing of electronic health records and patient data across borders. This could greatly streamline communication and follow-ups between patients and healthcare providers, much like Apple Health Records but on a global scale.
  7. Cross-Cultural Training: Businesses can offer tailored training programs for healthcare professionals to improve their understanding and respect of different cultures, helping them better cater to a diverse patient demographic, akin to how language schools offer specialized language and cultural training courses.
  8. Language Services: A business offering translation and interpretation services for healthcare providers could ensure clear communication between doctors and patients, regardless of the language they speak, similar to how services like Google Translate or DeepL operate.
  9. Post-Care Services: There is scope to establish businesses that coordinate care for patients once they return home. This could include organizing local care providers, managing medication delivery, remote health monitoring, and even setting up physical therapy or rehabilitation services.
  10. Medical Concierge Services: A 'medical concierge' service could handle all aspects of a medical tourist's journey. This premium service could provide personalized assistance from arranging visas and travel to booking appointments and accommodations, similar to how high-end travel concierge services work, but tailored for medical tourists.

 

References

  1. Medical Tourism Industry
  2. Globalization of Health Care
  3. Cancer and Organ Transplant
  4. Korea has committed to increase its' medical tourists to 7 Lakhs a year until 2028
  5. Thailand is hoping to achieve 10 Mn annual medical tourists
  6. Tourists flocking to Dubai seeking healthcare spent nearly $200mln

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