Medical tourism : A new dimension in healthcare and tourism

Medical tourism has been popular for centuries since the ancient Greeks and Egyptians swarmed to baths and hot springs to perform surgery abroad. Medical tourism has been increasing dramatically globally, with people traveling from developed countries to low-income or middle-income countries, often to avoid high costs or long delays associated with seeking healthcare in their countries of origin.  Futurologists forecast that the medical tourism industry will be a promising sector and believe that it will be the highest value-added service industry through inter-industrial convergence in the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The most popular medical services include organ transplantation, cosmetic surgery, dental services, bariatric medicine and infertility treatment. The majority of patients often seek healthcare in their World Health Organization (WHO) region of residence; however, travelers visiting friends and relatives may combine medical treatment with family visits. 

Common procedures include dental work; arthroplasty; cataract, bariatric, cosmetic, and cardiac surgery; reproductive care; and tissue and organ transplant.

Which countries are best for medical tourism?

1. Mexico
2. Colombia
3. Costa Rica
4. Turkey
5. India
6. Brazil
7. Dominican Republic
8. Malaysia
9. South Korea
10 Thailand
11. Switzerland
12. Israel
13. Ecuador
14. Austria
15. Caribbean countries

Reasons for medical tourism:

According to a published article there are several reasons for medical tourism such as cost, long waiting lists or delays, legal and termination of pregnancy, in vitro fertilization,  the lack of availability of certain treatments in the country of residence and an interest in combining a medical treatment with an exotic vacation. 

Treatments not covered by health insurance in home country

Treatments not covered by health insurance in home country

Lack of health insurance making some care unaffordable in home country

Lack of technology or medical expertise in own country; procedure or treatment unavailable

Legal or cultural constraints in home country (eg, termination of pregnancy; in vitro fertilization; sexual reassignment surgery; surrogates for pregnancy; stem cell treatments)

Medical insurance plans include coverage and may even offer incentives for out-of-country procedures

Decreasing cost for transportation

Challenges of medical tourism: 

The main constraint on medical tourism is the challenge of insurance portability.

  1. Lack of regulation of medical tourism companies
  2. Accreditation of care providers may be lax and highly variable
  3. Ethical concerns about doing procedures that are not supported by scientific evidence
  4. Fragmented or poor follow-up care; lack of communication between institutions abroad and at home; poor medical records
  5. Late complications following surgery
  6. High nosocomial infection rates; early and late infections
  7. Lack of oversight to identify reasons for adverse events and effect change
  8. Major surgery may be associated with increased risk for perioperative deep vein thrombosis from long-haul flights
  9. Lack of liability for poor results or malpractice
  10. Lack of standards regarding patient privacy and confidentiality
  11. Rise in cost of medical care for local residents
  12. Focus on wealthier foreign patients may undermine resources for impoverished local residents who may have less access to care
  13. Exploitation of local donors or surrogates for certain procedures
  14. Imbalance of specialties; financial incentives for care of foreign patients affects specialty choices

Infectious complications account for the most common complications among medical tourists. Infections transmitted through medical procedures performed abroad include wound infections, transplant-related infections and acquisition of blood-borne infections, such as hepatitis B virus (HBV), hepatitis C virus (HCV), cytomegalovirus (CMV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), as well as MDR infections.


Lin H. Chen, Mary E. Wilson, The Globalization of Healthcare: Implications of Medical Tourism for the Infectious Disease Clinician, Clinical Infectious Diseases, Volume 57, Issue 12.

Nelson, Roxanne. The Growing Trend of Medical Tourism. AJN, American Journal of Nursing: July 2017 – Volume 117 – Issue 7

Androula Pavli, MD, FRACGP, DTM, MPH, PhD, Helena C Maltezou, MD, PhD, DU, Infectious complications related to medical tourism, Journal of Travel Medicine, Volume 28, Issue 1

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