Medical tourism needs to be viewed not as a business option, but as a platform to enable globalisation of care : By Dr Ashwani Bansal
What is medical tourism? Back in the old days, if one was going to Mexico for a holiday, your friends would give a rather strong travel advisory: ‘Montezuma’s Revenge ’. This becoming the precursor to the million dollar question – “Why would I ever want to see a doctor abroad?” All humour aside, people choose to pursue medical care abroad for a variety of reasons- decreased costs, cultural preferences, family presence, waiting times or to receive a procedure or therapy that may not currently be available in their country of residence. The vistas for medical tourism are only going to grow further with the current economic uncertainty brewing in the West such as Brexit in the UK and potential repealing of Affordable Care Act (ACA) in the US.
The uncertainty created due to the potential repealing of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is palpable in the US healthcare domain. If the ACA is indeed repealed and current structures are resultantly disengaged, a large number of Americans may be left clambering for an affordable source of accessible quality care. There is a high possibility that clinicians across the US may also find Insurance Organisations (like Medicare & Medicaid) to arrive at formal collaborations with provider organisations outside the US to enable affordable access to its enrollees.
This, if further compounded by an increase in the number of uninsured people, may prove to be a blessing in disguise for the global (more-so emerging economies) medical tourism markets. According to the Annals of Internal Medicine of January 2017, even after implementation of the ACA, “15% of people with chronic diseases still lacked health insurance coverage and more than a quarter of them didn’t get a check-up in 2014. About 23% of people with chronic disease went without care because they found that costs were still too high.”
So, the prognosis of medical tourism to be brighter than what one may have presumed with respect to its projected CAGR. However, emerging markets will have to continually innovate to ensure addressal of one of the most fundamental issues with offshore medical provision – ‘continuity of care’. This is where one will have to adapt to the digitisation and IoT boom and maximise disruptions like ‘tele-health’. As most medical tourists pay from their own pocket or rely on medical travel facilitators, to act as an intermediary or a primary point of contact between patients and healthcare providers – tele-health could be used to augment this ‘concierge service’ model.
Finally, medical tourism needs to be viewed not as a business option but as a platform to enable globalisation of care across geographic boundaries to enable accessible, affordable healthcare through disruptions that leapfrog efficiencies in care delivery models and deliver clinical outcomes at a completely disruptive cost structure.
Dr Ashwani Bansal is COO of CIMS.