Still Medical Tourism needs lots of improvement

International patients may not receive the necessary information they need to make care decisions, according to an article published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

Medical tourists traditionally leave high-income countries to seek cheaper healthcare in middle and low-income nations, but now–thanks to increasing internet access–more citizens from other countries are traveling to the U.S. for medical care. Yan Alicia Hong, Ph.D., associate professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health, said that the opening of a Chinese American Physicians E-hospital in Texas inspired her to examine the situation. All physicians affiliated with the hospital are bilingual Chinese American doctors, who provide initial teleconsulting services, international transfer and treatment in the U.S.

“I realized that the flourishing telemedicine and medical tourism communities have been understudied and need more attention,” Hong said in the study announcement. She writes in the article that there are four areas that need immediate attention to improve care for these patients:

There is a lack of reliable assessment for the quality of healthcare across borders, including information comparing price to outcome.

  • There is not enough communication with patients about the potential risks of medical tourism.
  • Policies about ethical concerns related to clinical trials are not adequate.
  • Legal concerns related to medical tourists have not yet been addressed.

Hong found that number of Chinese patients seeking healthcare in the U.S. has gone up by 400 percent in the decade between 2004 and 2014, and more than 70 percent of these patients seek oncology care. Costs associated with these trips can typically range between $100,000 and $150,000 and patients often pay in cash, Hong found.

In response, some hospitals make services more visible to international patients and an increasing number create departments specifically to treat medical tourists. “Such development has enabled patients around the world to seek the best care available and facilitates efficient communication of medicine globally.,” Hong said in the announcement. “However, it’s imperative that more research and dialogue be conducted on the issues and impact associated with the evolving models of medical consumerism.”

Indian Visa for Yoga and Alternative Medicine

In a bid to promote Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of making India a major destination for yoga and alternate medicine, the home ministry has decided to include short-term yoga programmes, including course, in the category of tourist visas and e-tourist visas. Applications received for tourist visas are normally processed faster and now, with the inclusion of yoga and alternate medicine programmes in this category, foreign nationals who want to pursue these will be able to do so without much hindrance.

In addition, the government has also decided to include “short-duration medical treatment under Indian systems of medicine” in the list of permissible activities under e-tourist visas.

“This move will help promote both yoga and Indian systems of medicine like Ayurveda and Unani across the world. There is growing awareness among foreigners for such things and the government is keen to promote India as a major centre for both yoga and alternate system of medicine,’’ a senior home ministry official said.

The ministry officials feel the move will give a further boost to tourism industry in the country as a lot of foreigners have been visiting India to learn yoga and alternate Indian medicine, particularly in Uttarakhand and Kerala.

At present, tourist visas are granted to those who want to visit India for recreation, sightseeing or to meet someone. Similarly, e-tourist visas are granted to foreigners with the same objective. The government has notified all Indian missions abroad and Foreigners Regional Registration Officers as well as Foreigners Registration Officers about these changes.

Prime Minister Modi had made a strong pitch for promoting yoga at the United Nations, following which 177 countries had co-sponsored a UN resolution for observing June 21 as International Yoga Day. The PM had himself participated in a mass yoga programme at Rajpath on June 21 last year

Saudi Arabia Medical Tourism

As part of Saudi Arabian plans to diversify the economy, it is looking into the potential of medical tourism – a sector it traditionally ignored as not worthy of consideration.

The Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTNH) wants national and international investment in medical tourism because of the potential for what it sees as significant returns.

Hamad Al-Sheikh of SCTNH says,”Investors could make good money because the Kingdom has an advanced medical infrastructure.”

Sami Al-Abdulkarim of the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry adds. “ The private sector could stand to gain a great deal because of the Kingdom’s low medical costs and easy access to services. Co-operation between the private and public sectors could see some private hospitals raise bed occupancy from 70 to 90 %.”

Other local views agree that there could be huge potential to develop the medical tourism industry, but it could only become successful through public-private partnerships.

In Saudi Arabia there are plans to remove healthcare from the public sector into the private sector.