As the flow of cross border patient increases with medical tourism, more and more countries entering the market as medical tourism destinations would benefit from the foreign exchange income. Medical tourism has also led to the betterment of several emerging market economies, especially in developing countries.
However, there have been increasing claims that medical tourism has paved the way for socio-ethical inequities in existing healthcare systems. This is particularly true in the case of developing nations where medical tourists are given more precedence over locals and investments are made in medical tourism activities in spite of affordable healthcare costs. As a result, policy makers tend to face a dilemma when choosing whether to invest in medical tourism development or the public healthcare system.
The destinations that earn fame and success in the medical tourism industry are those that give equal importance to the medical tourism industry as well as their respective healthcare systems. This can be achieved via detailed long planning and adequate support from the government. Let us take a few examples in this case.
Singapore and Malaysia had affordable healthcare systems, but were financially poor until their respective governments decided to back the medical tourism sector by providing incentive based programs for investors. In Thailand, the government has come up with lucrative incentives for those interested in entering the medical tourism business. Even emerging medical tourism destinations like Costa Rica, Brazil, Mexico, India, Turkey, Hungary, Israel and Korea are seeing an increased number of government initiatives for the development of the medical tourism business.
Most of these government initiatives help to create awareness of high quality healthcare instead of focusing on low prices. We can clearly see that the medical tourism destinations mentioned above were able to flourish only after the government stepped in to back the medical tourism industry in these countries.
While government incentives would help boost the medical tourism business in a country, care must be taken to ensure that equitable healthcare entitlement is not disturbed at all in the process. Every incentive based program or healthcare reform launched by the government must be backed by a detailed plan to benefit both the public healthcare system and the medical tourism industry.
This can be achieved only by long-term commitments and utmost transparency in the planning process. As such, governments must ensure that the proceeds from the medical tourism industry go into developing their respective communities and economies instead of creating the socio-ethical issues mentioned above.
The medical tourism business is flourishing in many countries around the world. It is necessary to utilize this boom for the betterment of the society. Hence, the governments in these countries would need to step forward and take the initiative to help the medical tourism industry grow while using the proceeds from the same to improve the quality of the existing public healthcare system.