Study: Medical tourism market smaller than predicted

A new study suggests that the medical tourism market isn't quite as hot as some observers thought, though it's still got a great deal of upside. The study, by consulting firm McKinsey & Co., concludes that between 60,000 and 85,000 patients travel to other countries for inpatient hospital care. Contrary to popular wisdom, at present most of these tourists aren't looking for low-cost care, researchers said. Forty percent of such travelers are looking for cutting-edge procedures, especially those who visit the U.S., while 32 percent sought better care than at home, McKinsey concluded. Another 15 percent are avoiding waiting times faced in their home medical system, especially in Canada and the United Kingdom. People seeking cheaper prices on medically-necessary procedures, meanwhile, made up only 4 percent of the total.

The McKinsey figures are far lower than the figures typically used by medical-tourism companies, who typically contend, for example, that more than a million medical tourists go to Asia each year. These numbers are likely to stir up a tempest in this emerging market, as they undercut marketers' reassurances that "everyone is doing it." Still, even McKinsey executives believe that the segment of patients seeking lower cost care will grow dramatically in coming years.

To learn more about this study:
- read this Wall Street Journal piece

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