More countries are entering the medical tourism market in order to cash in on the lucrative business. The concept of traveling to foreign destinations for medical treatments has caught onto several patients who make these trips for higher quality healthcare, reduced healthcare costs and quicker access to medical procedures/treatments.
Many perceive that this trend has created a global social, economic and cultural phenomenon with its share of pros and cons. Sustainable medical tourism would work towards minimizing these cultural, social and economic negativities in order to help the industry, as well as the economies that rely on it to grow simultaneously without harming the environment in any possible way.
Medical Tourism Impacts
Social: Medical tourism has improved the quality of healthcare in many destinations and has lead to increased employment opportunities, technological advances, cultural enrichment and improved lifestyles. However, one cannot deny the fact that it has created inequities in the healthcare sector in many countries where locals are ignored in preference of medical tourists who get better treatment.
Economic: Medical tourism has improved the economies of many countries around the world. Countries like India and Colombia have used the money they gain from medical tourism to better their own economies. However, in certain cases, these economic benefits are not distributed equally in the provider destination, thereby resulting in social inequality. Medical tourism has also led to inflation of healthcare prices in provider destinations, thereby making it harder for the less privileged locals to get access to even basic healthcare services.
Environmental: More medical tourism destinations are coming up with ways to make medical tourists more aware of the need to protect natural resources. These destinations collaborate with travel agencies to arrange leisure trips and activities that work around these objectives.
Medical Tourism and Sustainability
Sustainable medical tourism would need to be based on three pillars of social sustainability, economic sustainability and environmental sustainability. These three pillars need to consider the industry, community and environment in addition to tourist satisfaction when working together.
Social Sustainability: Medical tourism providers would need to respect individual socio-cultural and the traditional community values of the host communities. This pillar would also need to respond appropriately to improve the quality of life for local communities, including providing access to health, education, accommodation, employment, etc.
Economic Sustainability: The long-term economic benefits should be distributed equally among all participating agents and should generate more employment opportunities in addition to helping reduce poverty.
Environment Sustainability: All processes and initiatives undertaken by the provider destination to promote medical tourism should in no way, harm the environment.
More and more medical tourism countries are inching towards ways to promote and offer their products and services in a sustainable manner. Sustainable medical tourism can come into being, if we adhere to these three pillars and their requirements strictly. Only then would medical tourism destinations be able to work towards the long-term goal of sustainability.