Medical Tourism

Medical tourism is negative for overall health and well-being

The continuous increase in the demand for health services has been on the rise globally over the past years. Changes in the demographic composition are characterized by the requirements for more medical services by the aging part of the population. This coupled up with epidemiological changes, that is, a rise in incidences of chronic conditions has led to an increase in the demand for more and better health services (Simons, Pike, Hulseberg, Prouty, & Swierczewski, 2016). There has been a constant change in the health sector that is attributed to the rapid growth of the private sector health provision and medical tourism that has become one of the lucrative businesses in some countries. Constant increases in the cost of health services in some countries and the availability of cheaper alternatives to the health services in developing countries has led to the continuous development of medical tourism.

Medical tourism refers to a situation in which patients travel abroad with an aim of receiving health care services in the destination countries (Pocock, & Phua, 2011). The movement to the country to seek medical care is intentional, and the patient may not be experiencing an emergency health situation. Medical tourists move across borders with the primary aim of accessing care (Snowdon, Bassi, Scarffe, & Smith, 2015). The motivations for medical tourism are health service issues such as not being able to access health services in their home countries, higher costs of medical services and lengthy wait times for their home systems. Most of the hospitals that are medical tourism destinations are primarily found in lower and middle-income countries due to the competitive advantage they face as a result of favorable exchange rates thus being preferred by price-conscious international patients (Pocock, & Phua, 2011).

Most of the trade in medical tourism take place without any regulatory framework which has led to the view that the trade is mainly profit driven and has gained a lot of criticisms because it poses a threat to the equitable delivery of healthcare worldwide (Johnston, Crooks, Snyder, & Kingsbury, 2010). The negative effects of medical tourism should, therefore, be well defined if the industry is to grow in a way that is beneficial to the citizens of the destination countries and the departure countries.

The adverse effects of medical tourism on overall health and well-being

Numerous risks may arise due to the practice of medical tourism. These risks include the possibility of the patient developing embolisms as a result of long flight periods. The risk may be in the form of pulmonary embolisms resulting from several hours of travel due to prolonged immobility (Johnston et. al, 2010). Medical tourism may also lead to a disruption of the patient’s care schedule as they may need to move back to the countries they came from before they are completely taken care of. The patients may also suffer from medical malpractices due to inadequate laws that govern that govern medical practices in most of the destination countries (Crooks, Kingsbury, Snyder, & Johnston, 2010). The lack of proper laws has made medical tourism a risky prospect for medical tourists. However, these risks are still evident due to the steady growth of the industry.

Medical tourism also has an overall negative effect on the allocation of public resources in the destination countries. The practice poses a threat to equitability in the use of public funds. The growth of medical tourism industries in the destination countries highly depends on aid in the form of government funding and subsidies. The subsidies may be in the form of reduced tariffs and importation of high capacity medical equipment to provide services in private hospitals serving medical tourists. Even though such private hospitals are supposed to deliver services for all including the domestic patients, some of these requirements are not met as the hospitals only provide services to medical tourists due to the high costs involved. Moreover, medical tourism also has negative effects on the publicly financed health services. This has led to some form of public subsidization as highly trained physicians are hired by the private medical tourist facilities due to the availability of higher wages and better medical equipment (Camitz, & Liljeros, 2006). This has resulted in inequality in the use of public resources.

Inequalities in health provision in destination countries are also attributed to medical tourism. Medical tourism is responsible for exacerbating health care through practices such as brain drain as the higher wages and superior medical equipment used in these facilities attract professional healthcare providers from other public health services (Johnston, Crooks, Snyder, & Kingsbury, 2010). The practice is also responsible for the rural deprivation of qualified health workers since most of the services provided by medical tourist facilities are mainly urban based. Continuity in this practice may result in a situation where the locals are not able to afford their health care system as an increase in the number of foreign patients may lead to a rise in the cost of healthcare for the locals (Pocock, & Phua, 2011). Medical tourism has resulted in healthcare investments being high-technology oriented thereby driving up costs of even the basic medical services. The result is that a large population cannot have access to the prohibitively expensive medical services.

Medical tourism may also have negative impacts on the departure country of the medical tourist. This may arise in the case where complications develop following a medical procedure performed on a patient abroad (Johnston, Crooks, Snyder, & Kingsbury, 2010). The cost of care for such a patient may, in turn, double compared to if the patient would have acquired medical services in his or her home country initially. In the case where the medical tourists health system is funded either entirely or partially through public financing, such medical complications result in an increase in the public costs of post supportive care.

The practice of medical tourism also has negative effects on the patients’ home country as it lessens equitable access to health care (Snowdon, Bassi, Scarffe, & Smith, 2015). Wealthy patients may opt out of the healthcare systems provided in their home country which may negatively affect the need to change healthcare standards in those countries since the rich can meet their healthcare needs abroad. This leaves the less privileged to the low-quality health care services provided in their home country.

Medical tourism is also a means by which patients can acquire cheap and quick medical services compared to the services offered locally (Snowdon, Bassi, Scarffe, & Smith, 2015). However, traveling abroad is associated with a series of risks to the patient and other long-term costs that may be incurred by the patient’s home health systems. Traveling to another country for care services may worsen the health of the patient in an instance where an experimental treatment produces other complications or side effects. Even though the care facilities in most of the countries are of high quality, overlooking some of these facilities may result in substandard care and complications that may require follow-up care for the patient (Crooks, Kingsbury, Snyder, & Johnston, 2010). Most of the treatments received by medical tourists require follow-up procedures even if the treatments are successful. Therefore, complications may arise if follow-up care is not organized in the counties the medical tourists are from. Difficulties that may arise in the transfer of medical records between the destination country and the home country may result in difficulties in the provision of follow-up care. These patients may also carry along with them some infections back home such as the NDM1 superbug, an infection that is highly associated with medical tourists (Snyder, Dharamsi, & Crooks, 2011).

In conclusion, medical tourism has negatively affected the healthcare systems and the overall health and wellbeing of individuals in both the destination and the departure countries. However, the lack of appropriate laws that monitor the practice of medical tourism can, in turn, encourage the spread of this practice and adversely affect the cost and the access to medical services by the local populations. In a situation where a country rations care, the ability to ration and distribute health care resources efficiently may be disrupted. This may bring about profit-motivated health care provision while undermining the needs of the local healthcare needs.  With no regulation, the potential of positive benefits from medical tourism may not be realized, and the result may be the commodification of healthcare services. The ability to develop such regulations is however thwarted by the lack of proper knowledge concerning medical tourism due to lack of appropriate and unified definitions of the phenomenon.



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Crooks, V. A., Kingsbury, P., Snyder, J., & Johnston, R. (2010). What is known about the patient’s experience of medical tourism? A scoping review. BMC Health Services Research, 10(1), 1. Retrieved from

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Snowdon, A. W., Bassi, H., Scarffe, A. D., & Smith, A. D. (2015). Reverse innovation: an opportunity for strengthening health systems. Globalization and health, 11(1), 1. Retrieved from


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