Falling ill while abroad seems like the worst sort of traveling nightmare. Yet, for growing numbers of travelers, the lure of combining affordable medical care with attentive room service is a chief draw for packing a suitcase and boarding a plane.
In an article soon to be published in the FIU (Florida International University) Hospitality Review, Frederick J. DeMicco, University of Delaware's ARAMARK Chair in Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management and department chairperson, and Marvin Cetron, founder and president of Forecasting International, give their views on the growing trend of medical tourism.
DeMicco and Cetron, along with Owen Davies, a consultant for Forecasting International, also have coauthored a recently published book on tourism trends titled, Hospitality 2010: The Future of Hospitality and Travel.
Medical tourists have good cause to seek out care beyond the United States for many reasons. In some regions of the world, state-of-the-art medical facilities are hard to come by, if they exist at all; in other countries, the public health-care system is so overburdened that it can take years to get needed care. In Britain and Canada, for instance, the waiting period for a hip replacement can be a year or more, while in Bangkok or Bangalore, a patient can be in the operating room the morning after getting off a plane.
For many medical tourists, though, the real attraction is price. The cost of surgery in India, Thailand or South Africa can be one-tenth of what it is in the United States or Western Europe, and sometimes even less. A heart-valve replacement that would cost $200,000 or more in the U.S., for example, goes for $10,000 in India--and that includes round-trip airfare and a brief vacation package. Similarly, a metal-free dental bridge worth $5,500 in the U.S. costs $500 in India, a knee replacement in Thailand with six days of physical therapy costs about one-fifth of what it would in the States, and Lasik eye surgery worth $3,700 in the U.S. is available in many other countries for only $730. Cosmetic surgery savings are even greater: A full facelift that would cost $20,000 in the U.S. runs about $1,250 in South Africa.
In monetary terms, experts estimate that medical tourism could bring India as much as $2.2 billion per year by 2012. Argentina, Costa Rica, Cuba, Jamaica, South Africa, Jordan, Malaysia, Hungary, Latvia and Estonia all have broken into this lucrative market as well, or are trying to do so, and more countries join the list every year.
Medical tourism will be particularly attractive in the United States, where an estimated 43 million people are without health insurance and 120 million without dental coverage--numbers that are both likely to grow. Patients in Britain, Canada and other countries with long waiting lists for major surgery will be just as eager to take advantage of foreign health-care options.