Medical Tourism and its Potential for Developing Countries
The Emerging Phenomenon of Medical Tourism
An emerging trend in healthcare management is the phenomenon of medical tourism or the mixing of tourism with visits for medical treatment. This medical tourism has become popular in recent years mainly because of the fact that healthcare has become prohibitively expensive in the West and as the Eastern countries like Thailand, India, and countries in South East Asia have developed advanced capabilities in healthcare, it makes sense for westerners to visit these countries for treatment. Added to this is the fact that the healthcare systems in countries like the UK are overburdened and understaffed which means that waiting times for even simple surgeries run into the months. When compared with the relatively hassle free and immediate surgeries that happen in the Eastern countries, the healthcare systems in the US and the UK resemble a chaotic and frazzled experience for the patients. The countries like India and Thailand are welcoming medical tourists as it is a good source of revenue and that too earned in hard currency or dollars and pounds. Considering the fact that these countries offer favorable exchange rates to the westerners, the double whammy benefit of the westerns being served in premium care and the eastern countries, earning valuable foreign exchange has led to an exodus of patients from the west to the east.
Management of the Medical Tourism Sector
There are established norms that have been laid down by the governments in these Asian countries on the ways and means that Westerners have to be treated in the hospitals in these countries. These norms have been laid down as there have been criticisms from some quarters that the medical infrastructure in these countries is geared towards the rich and wealthy as such and when medical tourism is added to the portfolio, the result is that poor patients suffer. Hence, the governments in these Asian countries have come out with guidelines on the methods of treatment, the number of patients from the West who can be treated and how much the services ought to cost. Further, many hospitals in Asia have begun offering special services to the Westerners who often come all alone and hence would need nursing and palliative care. For instance, leading hospital chains in India offer personalized attendant services as well as dedicated nursing and acute care support staff to the westerners. Apart from this, hospitals in Asia have begun actively soliciting the patients from the west who are discouraged by the lack of such services except for the rich in the countries back home.
Future Directions in Growth of the Medical Tourism Sector
The medical tourism industry is expected to grow in double-digit rates in the coming years and hence, all experts are of the opinion that the sector ought to be managed efficiently and effectively. The point that is being made here is that there is no point in killing the goose that lays the golden eggs by overcharging, over admitting, and other lapses in medical care and hence, the medical tourism sector has to be handled in a professional manner. Already in India, hospitals are having separate and dedicated wings in their establishments for medical tourists and coupled with the fact that the English proficiency among medical staff in India is comparable to western standards, there is no reason why the medical tourism sector in India and other Asian countries should not grow. Further, medical tourists also contribute to the overall economy as once the treatment is over, they usually take some time to stay and visit the places of prominence in these countries. This leads to a knock on effect on the economies of these countries as the spending by the tourists contributes to growth in the economy.
Finally, despite the pros and cons of medical tourism, the fact remains that the sector needs to be watched in the coming years as the balance of power between treatment and medical care between the west and east is tilting in favor of the latter.
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