Medical tourism is a word which denotes “flying by patients to get treated abroad”. Before the advent of medical technologies, much of the medical tourism was spring baths and health spas. However, in 19th century, more and more people started travelling abroad seeking advanced medical care. Thus, in 20th century, “medical tourism remained within the realm of patients migrating to other countries in pursuit of health care not available domestically”. Since the US was always at the cutting edge of medical research and technology, it remained the destination for medical care for quite a long time. However, there were some exceptions, with the popularization of yoga and Ayurveda in India and with the beginning of flower child movement in the west, other countries like India started emerging as healthcare destinations.
Later in 80s and 90s, Cuba started the movement in health tourism. It became a destination for those seeking eye, heart, and cosmetic procedures. The procedures were more economical and waiting time was lesser. Soon, rest of the Caribbean countries followed, Jamaica, Barbados and Puerto Rico, each started establishing their own specialty care fields for medical tourism. While Jamaica specialized in plastic surgery, Barbados specialized in infertility management, and Puerto Rico in cardiovascular surgery, orthopedic surgery, neurology and oncology. These countries attracted patients from North America and Europe.
In 90s, Asia got into economic crisis and many of the Asian countries dependent on tourism started investing in upgrading their healthcare facilities. Country like Thailand invested heavily in creating healthcare set up and specialized in plastic surgery. The country even started tourism friendly hospitals like Bumrungrad International Hospital, featuring interpreters and an airline ticket counter. Other countries also followed the model soon. About 20–30% of the medical tourists visit Asian countries for their care. The major destinations in Asia for medical tourism are India, Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia.
Recently, India has become one of the most sought after destination for international treatment seekers. Low cost, cutting edge technology, cheerful culture of people and prosperous heritage of the country has provided a boost to medical tourism. While developed world comes to India because of availability of high tech treatment at lower cost and no waiting period; under-developed countries visit India because the treatment available here is not available in their countries. In addition, Indians settled across the world (Indians are among the largest migrants in the world) come back to India so that they can club low-cost quality healthcare with care from their extended family back in India.
All these earlier said developments boosted medical tourism across the country and now a whooping 12 million people travel across the world just for the purpose of getting high tech treatment in a foreign land at lower cost.
With more people travelling across the world for healthcare, the hospitals and the processes had to be standardized. Thus, in addition to country specific accreditation boards, Joint Commission International (JCI) was formed, which is the best international hospital accreditation board currently. Since the establishment of JCI, 375 hospitals in 47 countries in facilities across Europe, the Middle East, Asia and South America have been accredited by the JCI. India has 21 JCI accredited hospitals.
Owing to all these advancements, 21st century is expected to see a boom in medical tourism. More and more foreigners seeking healthcare are expected to visit countries generating local jobs, foreign exchange and more importantly good will for the county.