Study debunks medical tourism myth

New research suggests that many common beliefs about "medical tourism" are incorrect, according to a study announcement.

The research, which will be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Policy & Politics, indicates that fewer people are prepared to travel internationally for medical treatment than conventional wisdom holds. Costs for treatment are fully recouped under medical tourism unlike health tourism, which typically involves no intention to pay.

The researchers, who are affiliated with the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Royal Holloway University and the University of Birmingham, analyzed data from both the UK's National Health Service (NHS) and other countries. They encountered three common misconceptions about medical tourism:

  • Medical tourism is continually on the rise;

  • There are "enormous global market opportunities" associated with medical tourism; and

  • Governments can stimulate the medical tourism sector by investing in technology.

According to the study, healthcare providers and others who have a financial interest in increasing medical tourism have promoted these ideas, which are not based on any data or hard evidence.

"What is clear is that there exists no credible authoritative data at the global level, which is why we are urging caution to governments and other decision-makers who see medical tourism as a lucrative source of additional revenue,"  lead author Neil Lunt, Ph.D., of the University of York's department of social policy and social work, said in the announcement. "Our message is: be wary of being dazzled by the lure of global health markets, and of chasing markets that do not exist."

The team attributed many patterns of medical tourism to general historical relationships between the point of origin and the destination, according to Lunt's co-researcher, Daniel Horsfall, Ph.D. of the University of York. "For example, you find that medical tourists from the Middle East typically go to Germany and the UK due to existing ties, while Hungary attracts medical tourists from Western Europe owing to its proximity," he said.

The lack of official statistics makes it hard to determine the popularity of medical tourism to the U.S. However, individual programs have made Michigan a common destination for international patients, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

To learn more:
- here's the study announcement

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