The history of medical travel is not different from that of medicine itself. Humans have voyaged to the end of the world to find remedies for their ailments and the best possible cure, sometimes at the cost of all their possessions, severing ties with their homeland and even life. Had our ancestors not explored the realms of earth to find cures, today we would not be where we are in terms of curative knowhow.
We will acquaint you with a brief history of medical tourism divided into three major parts: period before Christ, period after Christ and the developments in the 21st Century.
Period before Christ
- Thermal springs
As early as 4200BC, health recuperations included baths in thermal springs or fountains housed in lofty, grandiose temples. The Sumerians were the first to host these temples of yore and provide people from all over the world with a cure that was missing in their respective countries.
- Bronze cups
As civilization advanced and entered the metal age around 2000 BC, people started to use bronze utensils to drink from the mineral-rich thermal springs.
- Asclepiad temples
During 1500 BC, the Greeks laid the foundation stone of Asclepiad temples in honor of their God of medicine. These temples were the Mecca of convalescent centers. They opened up a vast network for travelers seeking recovery from their illnesses.
In the year 300 BC, the Greek civilization showed promising growth in the budding infirmary field. A small province in the Saronic Gulf – Epidaurus housed centers providing abundant services like temples, gymnasiums, steam baths, curative farms, baths, etc. Some examples of such establishments were the Olympian Sanctuary of Zeus and the Delphian temples.
Around the same time, the Romans popularized Thermae or ancient public steam baths, which, aside from offering treatment, helped commoners develop a sense of social life as well.
- Yoga and Ayurveda
India made great contributions in bringing the ancient healing measures to the present stage. Yogic healing and Ayurvedic medications attracted several civilizations to the Indian civilization, seeking cures for their physical and spiritual woes.
Period after Christ
During the 12th-13th centuries, another Asian nation, Japan, emerged as a major remedial contributor. Hot mineral springs, widely known as Onsen, captured the attention of warriors for their miraculous curative properties.
- Egyptian hospitals
Cairo was yet another ancient medical tourism hub where an advanced infirmary, Mansuri, flourished sometime during 1250 AD.
- Salude per aqua
The term salude per aqua or ‘spa’ was coined for iron-rich hot springs located in the town of Waters (Ville d’Eaux) in erstwhile Europe. In the subsequent years (14th and 15th centuries), people toured European destinations like Bath, St. Mortiz, Ville d’Eaux, Baden Bade and Aachen not just for treatment but also for tourism.
- New World therapies
A growing trend of residing near medicinal springs until the complete recovery gripped the Europeans towards the 17th century. However, newer therapies emerged after the discovery of the New World, wherein natives provided herbal remedies for serious ailments. Comparable to Far Eastern or African cultures, the natives of America were accomplished in ancient healing techniques and thus boosted the influx of health travelers to their nation.
The earliest form of hospitals, called sanatoriums, surfaced during the 18th and 19th century. Serious diseases like liver disorders, tuberculosis, gout and bronchitis were surfacing rapidly and sufferers frantically searched for places to cure and isolate these highly infectious syndromes. In such an era, sanatoriums provided welcome relief and patients did not mind traveling to distant countries to avail themselves of such therapeutic opportunities. The kind of resources, physicians or services offered by the sanatorium depended on the national origin and opulence.
The Industrial Revolution
Few things have had as massive an impact on our world as the Industrial Revolution. As the steam engine first chugged and new transport methods became available, medical tourism got a huge shot in the arm. People could now travel to different locations much faster, at lower costs, and in greater volumes. Traveling distances for medical needs actually became practical. Doctors increasingly started suggesting treatments like “a change in scenery,” made possible and affordable on the large scale by the facilities brought forth by the Industrial Revolution.
The late 20th century saw the several developing countries offer specialization surgeries as part of medical tourism initiatives. The specialized surgeries were available in advanced nations, but executed at a dear price. Developing countries took advantage of the gulf in pries to promote medical tourism facilities of their own. For example, Cuba started propagating its capabilities worldwide and gained eminence in cardiac, cosmetic and even optical surgeries. While countries in Central America became quite famous for dental procedures, Thailand started gaining prominence for plastic surgery and even customary medical procedures during the late 90s.
Emergence of Medical Tourism in 21st Century
The rich history of medical tourism and its continuous growth over the years is enough to give anyone an idea about emerging trends in 21st century and events that contributed to it. This is the reason why millions of people are now considering taking a trip to other countries to obtain surgical, dental, or even regular medical care.