About Medical Travel

Medical Travel and Medical Tourism

‘Medical travel’ is defined as travelling with the purpose of receiving medical care. Though believed to be a new phenomenon, there is actually a long history of medical tourists. In the past, one would travel to receive treatments for the simple fact that were not available in their home country.

Today, there is a growing trend where people are travelling overseas to access affordable healthcare, specialized treatments or higher-level quality of care. With the ease of international travel and its affordability, it is easy to see why some have decided to make the most of their international trip and schedule in time for a holiday or vacation. This combination of international medical travel and holidaying in a single trip is what is known as ‘Medical Tourism’.

The History of Medical Travel and Tourism

Archeological evidence from more than 4,000 years ago shows pilgrims travelling far and wide to healing temples in search of cures. Early civilizations recognized the therapeutic benefits of mineral hot springs and built health complexes and temples around thermal pools.

During the times of Ancient Greece, they worshipped the God of Medicine, Asclepius, and regarded hot thermal baths as sacred. Greek philosophers were the greatest advocates of the healing properties of mineral waters. At the height of the Greek empire, people would journey from across the world to visit these sacred healing baths.

Hundreds of years later, the ancient Romans adopted much of the Greek civilization. Medically advanced in knowledge and practice for their time, the Romans were firm believers in public health. Their shrines became health care facilities with doctors in attendance. These temples were the world’s first health centres.

Development of Medical Tourism

Medical travel may be an old concept but the medical tourism industry is relatively new; flourishing in the last few decades. In the 1900s, the United States and Europe saw themselves as global health centres. Medical Specialist boards were established to set high standards in both educational and professional policies. This is to ensure that the highest quality of medical care would be provided by their physicians.

In the beginning, only the wealthy travelled to the US and Europe to receive these high-end services. As the cost of health care services rose dramatically in the 1980s and 1990s, people look towards procedures offshore. These emerging markets can offer premium medical services at much more affordable prices mainly because of their lower labour cost. It is can be 30% – 70% lower compared to the cost in the United States.

Today, the bulk of medical tourism consists of elective surgeries as dentistry, fertility treatments and cosmetic surgery. In countries such as Thailand and Malaysia, medical tourism is encouraged by their governments. With their well-established healthcare systems, these popular holiday destinations become very appealing to medical tourists.

What should you look for as a medical tourist

If you are planning to seek treatments from international hospitals yourself, there a few things to consider.

Firstly, it is important to look for international accreditation from globally recognised organisations such as Joint Commission Institution (JCI).

This non-profit organization awards elite hospitals with a “Gold Seal of Approval®” as a symbol of world-class quality. This is a reflection of their commitment to meeting high standards in patient healthcare, safety, and state-of-the-art facilities.

It is also vital that you have medical insurance for your international health-related travel. Most travel insurance only covers you for unforeseen medical expenses you incur as a result of a sudden illness or serious injury. With more people travelling abroad for elective procedures, there are more insurers are providing travel insurance for pre-planned treatments. It is important you research obtain the right travel health insurance.

Consider the logistics. As it can be difficult navigating in a foreign place, you will need to think about your transport and accommodation options. Staying in close proximity to the hospital or medical practice is highly recommended.

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