Medical Care Beyond Borders: A Look Inside Medical Tourism

Written by Jamie du Plessis

What is driving medical tourism which will undoubtedly see a resurgence? Experts say it’s because patients want more options when it comes to healthcare. Specifically, they want more control over their health and where their money goes. Including how much insurance pays if they do cover costs and the quality of care found in healthcare systems outside of their countries.

What is “Medical Tourism”?

Patients have increasingly been travelling across the globe in search of better healthcare. There are two different types of tourism in this field:

  • Medical tourism: Patients seek medical care or elective procedures, such as cosmetic surgery.
  • Wellness tourism: Travellers actively seek holistic treatments and routines that change their lifestyle, such as yoga retreats.

Medical tourism is the process of travelling outside of your country to receive medical care. This can involve any type of medical procedure or treatment.

Patients seek better quality care, lower costs, and a more personalised experience if the options are available. For those who needed to make sure their health was stable enough to live their lives regularly, medical tourism didn’t always represent a trend.

Top 3 Medical Tourism Destinations in Africa and Globally

The market value for medical tourism dropped to an estimated USD 31,532.43 million in 2021, alongside a global price surge that came with the pandemic. In 2020 and 2021, healthcare benefit expenses fluctuated between a 4.8% decline and an 8.1% increase, according to Willis Towers Watson (WTW). Whereas, the Middle East and Africa had an estimated cost increase of 7.6% in 2022.

If a person needs a complex procedure or basic treatments, they will most likely go to destinations that have optimal best practices in their healthcare systems. This is especially true for many places that best managed the global pandemic and continue to have health and safety standards in place. The following countries are ranked in accordance with the Medical Tourism Index study, which rates nations based on destination attractiveness, safety, and healthcare quality.

Africa’s top three private medical travel destinations are:

  • South Africa: ranked 65.82%
  • Egypt: ranked 64.81%
  • Morocco: ranked 63.80%

The top 3 international destinations for medical travel are.

  • Singapore: ranked 76.47%
  • Canada: ranked 76.43%
  • Japan: ranked 74.23%

Why go to Africa for Medical Care?

The answer is simple: it’s affordable. With rising healthcare costs around the globe, many patients find it difficult to pay for expensive treatments or surgical procedures without health insurance coverage. In contrast, African countries are known for having some of the lowest medical costs worldwide, which makes them ideal destinations for those seeking affordable care outside of their respective countries.

When you think about medical tourism, Africa may not be the first place that comes to mind. However, the continent has a vast network of hospitals and clinics and some of the best medical professionals in the world. Africa has both international, cross-border, and continental travellers who seek medical care.

How does it work?

The process of travelling abroad for medical reasons is more complicated than simply booking a trip and showing up at your destination. Many patients are now searching for value-based care business models instead of the fee for service model if possible. Meaning they seek incentivised payment plans that look at the outcomes and how preventative the procedures are. Ensuring the following criteria are checked may help when travelling for medical care to ensure that you gain the best possible outcomes. 

  • Healthcare providers, facilities, programs that are locally or internationally registered and accredited
  • Professional medical tourism facilitators
  • Lodging and flights
  • The best possible destination that provides you with the services that you’re looking for

What are the Risks and Ethical Implications?

While you may be tempted to book that last-minute trip because it’s cheaper than staying home, there are risks involved with travelling for treatment. You need to do your research before booking a trip and find out if the clinic has any prior complaints or red flags on their record. If they do have complaints, find out what happened and how they were resolved before choosing them as your provider.

  • Ask about the cost of treatment
  • Ask about their safety record
  • Check whether they are registered, qualified, and accredited
  • Ask about their success rates
  • Make sure you have a good health insurance policy that will allow you to travel for medical care

It’s important that they have a medical tourism model that provides the best possible outcomes to patients while adhering to rules and being completely transparent. Highly qualified practitioners with the right infrastructure, and equipment will also allow for the medical tourism market in Africa to stay competitive.     

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