Medical tourism is not a global boom market as some have claimed, and a more nuanced view is needed to avoid costly mistakes and further damage to the medical tourism markets that do exist.
At the recent IMTJ Summit USA / World Health Care Congress held in Washington DC a range of perspectives on the medical travel markets was offered. Foreign providers and destinations where in attendance, hoping to learn how to tap into the US outbound medical travel market. Employee benefits managers and third-party administrators were in attendance, attempting to convince each other that medical tourism is a great way to save money and provide a better healthcare consumer experience. And there were plenty of “experts” in attendance hoping to cash in on the chaos.
For almost 20 years, medical tourism has been the subject of extraordinary hyperbole and simply outrageous claims. Also, during this same period, some providers and destinations have carved out sustainable markets for their services or their locations. So, while the far-reaching claims about “a global boom” are clearly wrong, we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Perhaps the biggest error and misconception in the medical tourism markets is that the United States is a good source for international medical tourism consumers. This is the legacy concept promulgated by Deloitte in 2009 which forecast that, in 2017, 24 million Americans would leave the United States to consume medical services. These projections are so incorrect as to be indefensible, yet they were enthusiastically embraced by conference promoters and consultants in order to feather their own nests. The net result was that hospitals were built, and expensive promotions were created and deployed in the expectations of attracting American consumers. But they didn’t come. Or, rather, they didn’t leave. An article in The Economist clearly describes why.
And while the misguided have been focusing on the US as a source market for international medical travelers, niche markets in Europe, Asia the Caribbean and South America have been developing. A US-centric perspective is profoundly biased.
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