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Medical Tourism: America, China Experiences Exodus

East and West suffer biting losses as citizens seek “the healing god” outside their countries. In earlier times, developed countries with cutting-edge facilities were the epicenters of an influx of medical tourists. The earliest known instance of medical tourism also affirmed this. Greek pilgrims traveled from the eastern Mediterranean to a small area in the Saronic Gulf called Epidauria, known as the sanctuary of Asklepios, the healing god. However, in modern times, medical tourists are starting to flow downstream from countries at the pinnacle of healthcare into less developed climes. Maybe the healing god got tired of the spotlight and relocated to less popular destinations for medical tourists. According to the 2007 McKinsey report, over 750,000 Americans traveled out of the country for medical treatment. This number has now

East and West suffer biting losses as citizens seek “the healing god” outside their countries.

In earlier times, developed countries with cutting-edge facilities were the epicenters of an influx of medical tourists. The earliest known instance of medical tourism also affirmed this. Greek pilgrims traveled from the eastern Mediterranean to a small area in the Saronic Gulf called Epidauria, known as the sanctuary of Asklepios, the healing god. However, in modern times, medical tourists are starting to flow downstream from countries at the pinnacle of healthcare into less developed climes. Maybe the healing god got tired of the spotlight and relocated to less popular destinations for medical tourists.

According to the 2007 McKinsey report, over 750,000 Americans traveled out of the country for medical treatment. This number has now increased to millions, as stated by the Center for Disease Control. The McKinsey report further noted that 45% of North American medical tourists travel to Asia, 26% go to Latin America, 2% go to the Middle East, and 27% travel to another country in North America.

Ctrip’s 2016 Online Medical Tourism Report showed that the number of travelers who enroll in overseas medical tourism through its platform increased fivefold over the previous year, and more than 500,000 Chinese visitors are expected to go on medical tourism. What this means for the eastern and western giants is the loss of billions of dollars to other countries, whose gains came from America’s and China’s losses.

The Medical Tourism Index identified the top ten countries that are at the receiving end of the medical exodus. These countries include Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Europe, Costa Rica, Mexico, India, Spain, Turkey, Israel, and Dubai. Medical tourists from the United States most commonly travel to Mexico and Canada, as confirmed by David G. Vequist IV, the founder of the Center for Medical Tourism Research in San Antonio, Texas.

“We are seeing a pent-up demand for medical tourism during the pandemic, particularly in the U.S. where a fast-growing number of Americans are traveling across the land border with Mexico for health purposes.”

 The health purposes medical tourists most commonly travel for revolve around:


  • In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF): For couples struggling with infertility, medical tourism offers a beacon of hope. Countries like India, Thailand, and Mexico have established themselves as IVF hubs, offering advanced fertility treatments at significantly lower costs compared to developed nations. These destinations boast experienced reproductive endocrinologists and state-of-the-art fertility clinics, providing a comprehensive range of IVF services, including egg donation, surrogacy, and preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD).


  • Abortion: Medical Tourism gives a safe haven to women in countries with restrictive abortion laws. Destinations like the Netherlands, Spain, and the United Kingdom have become havens for women seeking safe and legal abortions. These countries have established robust healthcare systems and supportive legal frameworks that protect women’s reproductive rights.


  • Cosmetic Surgery and Plastic Surgery: Countries like Thailand, South Korea, and Brazil have gained prominence for their expertise and affordability in these procedures. From facial surgeries like rhinoplasty and blepharoplasty to body contouring procedures like liposuction and abdominoplasty, these destinations offer a wide range of cosmetic enhancements, attracting individuals seeking to achieve their desired aesthetic goals.


  • Organ Transplant: People with organ failures flock to countries like the Philippines, China, and India. These nations have established themselves as organ transplant hubs, providing access to a broader pool of organ donors and shorter wait times.


  • Circumventive Tourism: Medical tourism also provides access to procedures that may be unavailable or restricted in one’s home country. This includes stem cell therapy, which is still in its experimental stages in many countries, and alternative medicine treatments that traditional insurance plans may not cover. Medical tourists seeking these specialized treatments often travel to countries like Germany, Switzerland, and Mexico, where they can access a broader range of healthcare options.


As the number of outbound medical tourists in the U.S. and China surges every year, one begins to ask questions about the factors behind this increase. Some of those reasons include:


  • High cost of healthcare: The cost of healthcare in the United States and China is significantly higher than in many other developed countries. This has led many Americans to seek out more affordable medical care abroad.


  • Long wait times: Patients often face long wait times for non-emergency medical care. This is due to a number of factors, including a shortage of doctors, hospitals, and an aging population.


  • Limited access to certain procedures: Some medical procedures are not readily available in the home countries or are only available at a very high cost. This has led citizens to travel to other countries for these procedures.


  • Perceived quality gaps in domestic healthcare: Quite a few citizens believe that the quality of healthcare in China or America is not as good as the quality of healthcare in other countries. Therefore, they strap themselves to the next available means of transportation and leave the country.


The overseas search for the “healing god” intensifies with each passing year. While it presents quite a number of risks, such as communication gaps, infectious diseases, and dangers of air travel after surgery, millions of people will unhesitatingly choose to go through with these procedures if that means an end to the health issues plaguing them.



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