Countries Compete for Medical Tourism Dollars

In an interconnected global marketplace, linked by air travel and full of countries jostling for notice, it’s no wonder that medical tourism has spurred competition. Nations see the money flowing into healthcare and want a share for themselves. They also see real advantages to becoming healthcare delivery hubs.

Here are a few of the countries hoping to benefit from travelers seeking treatment.


India is forecast to have three percent of the global medical tourism market by the end of 2013, according to a piece published by the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. But it wants much more. That’s why the Indian healhcare industry felt unfairly singled out by President Obama when he criticized medical tourism in April.

India hopes to use medical tourism to build its healthcare infrastructure. While it has well trained doctors and up-to-date hospitals, healthcare remains out of the reach of many Indians. Dollars flowing in from outside the country could help fix that.

“India’s potential is huge,” said Rana Mehta, executive director of PricewaterhouseCoopers India, in the Wharton piece.  “Some 80 percent of foreign patients coming to India are from the neighboring countries and from Iraq, Afghanistan, the former Soviet Union, etc., and now increasingly from Africa. But now, with India proving itself as a credible provider of value healthcare, the Western population aging, and healthcare becoming more difficult there, I expect more people to come from the U.S. and the U.K.”

South Korea

In 2010, more than 20,000 medical tourists visited South Korea. The majority were Korean-Americans. Overall, medical tourism was up 52 percent from 2009, which public health officials in Korea attribute to expensive U.S. healthcare.

The biggest group traveling to South Korea for care wasn’t looking for lifesaving treatment, though. Fourteen percent of medical tourists to the country received cosmetic surgery.

The Korea Health Industry Development Institute in the U.S. is working to offer insurance plans that direct even more patients to South Korea. According to Do-hyun Jo, manager of the institute, it hopes to attract more non-Korean patients to the country.

United States

Surprise! The biggest share of medical tourism dollars actually goes to the United States. Those coming to the U.S., however, aren’t looking to cut costs. No, medical tourism to the U.S. is based simply on the high level of medical technology here.

Some 40 percent of all people seeking medical care abroad want the latest and best technology, according to a paper from McKinsey & Co. titled “Mapping the market for medical travel.”

“These men and women take their search for high quality medical care global, giving little attention to the proximity of potential destinations or the cost of care,” the paper reads. “Most such patients travel to the U.S.”

While these patients might not be medical tourists in the cost-saving sense (they’re often wealthy and come from countries with cheaper care than the United States), they do show that global competition is a two-way street.
The U.S. might send out many patients, but it attracts others.


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