In Chapter 1 of Beauty from Afar, I suggested that medical tourism was already a big business in 2005 and that it might be acting as a safety valve for the U.S. health-care system. I was right on both counts.
Medical tourism was and is a big business and that fact has been a source of great frustration to entrepreneurs who believed then, and even today, that therefore it can be tamed, routinized and turned into a corporate profit engine. The biggest problem with that has been that the part of medical tourism that looks like it would be very profitable — putting Americans on airplanes and sending them overseas for surgery — is not a very big part of the medical tourism business at all. It is a very small part of the picture, relatively speaking, and will remain so unless and until American businesses and government embrace medical tourism.
Most of medical tourism from the United States is still for elective procedures, dentistry and cosmetic surgery; and the Great Recession has affected that business substantially. Yes, people are more interested than ever in saving money. However, through the medical tourism boom of 1998-2007 or so — a lot of Americans were paying for their cosmetic surgery and dentistry with credit cards or by taking second mortgages out on their homes. That is not happening quite so much any more, for obvious reasons.
Yet medical tourism is working well as a safety valve for many people the world over who cannot get or afford the care they need or want locally. It has been consumer driven. It is in the hands of patients.
Big research companies talk about medical tourism being worth many billions of dollars, with many more to come. They are right, though their methodology is often deeply flawed and even laughable. But those medical tourism dollars are spread out all over the world and are very difficult to count.
The next segment will talk about spiraling medical costs in the U.S. There’s a topic that certainly hasn’t gone stale in a few years. I’ll be interested in whatever it was that I had to say. 😉