Worldwide interest in medical tourism, by individuals seeking medical care and countries looking to provide such care, has surged in recent years.
Ottawa, April 9, 2015—Worldwide interest in medical tourism, by individuals seeking medical care and countries looking to provide such care, has surged in recent years. While medical tourism could potentially boost Canada’s economy and generate revenues that can be used to subsidize public health care, Canada needs to proceed slowly and cautiously to examine the benefits and risks of promoting this type of services trade.
- Worldwide interest in medical tourism, by individuals seeking medical care and countries looking to provide such care, has surged in recent years.
- Cautious experimentation with medical tourism in Canada could determine the pros and cons of promoting this type of services trade.
- There are more Canadians travelling abroad for medical treatment (spending $447 million in 2013) than foreign visitors coming to Canada for health care (spending $150 million in 2013).
A new Conference Board of Canada report, Should Canada’s Hospitals Open their Doors to Medical Tourists?, examines the current state of medical tourism in Canada and around the world, and the possible associated advantages and risks, such as increased wait times and the creation of a two-tiered system, for Canadian hospitals and health care systems.
“Canada invests more than $200 billion a year in health care, building a considerable expertise and experience in a vast number of fields. This massive investment could be leveraged to enhance our economy and generate revenue that could be reinvested into our health care system,” said Louis Theriault, Vice-President, Public Policy, The Conference Board of Canada. “But, for Canada to pursue and grow the medical tourism industry, it is imperative to ensure it can do so without compromising access to health care for Canadians.”
“A key question is whether medical tourism can improve health care access and quality of care for both Canadians at home and for international patients from abroad,” said Dr. Ronald Labonté, Canada Research Chair in Globalization and Health Equity at the University of Ottawa, and co-author on the report.
According to Patients Without Borders an estimated 11 million people travel abroad to seek medical care. The global market is growing at a pace of 15 to 25 per cent annually and the market is estimated at $38.5 billion to $55 billion. Many Asian countries have been actively promoting medical tourism for the past decade making them the number one destination for medical tourists with Latin America and Middle Eastern countries developing hospital facilities specifically to attract international patients.
At present, there are more Canadians travelling abroad for medical treatment (spending $447 million in 2013) than foreign visitors coming to Canada for health care (spending $150 million in 2013). Compared to other countries, both of these numbers remain relatively small. Potential opportunities exist for Canada to become a favoured destination for U.S. patients for language, proximity and safety reasons. However, implementation and expansion would have to be managed judiciously and cautiously.
There are generally three main motivations for a country to develop a medical tourism sector: to boost the economy, generate funds for health care improvement and to enhance efficiency.
Conversely, critics of medical tourism in Canada say it would increase wait times, put Canada on a slippery slope toward privatization and a two tier system, and compromise Canadian values such as equity and universality by promoting the commercialization of health care.
Having reviewed some of the benefits and criticisms of medical tourism, opening Canada’s hospital doors to international patients could be done as long as several guiding principles are followed:
- Canadians receive priority at all times.
- Hospitals should identify specific areas of capacity to expand services.
- Concentrate in areas where Canada has a competitive advantage.
- Charge international patients more than Canadians.
- Ensure guidelines are followed and systems improve access to care.
- Report the number of patients treated and revenues received.
This report is published under The Conference Board of Canada’s Canadian Alliance for Sustainable Health Care (CASHC). Launched in 2011, CASHC is a program of research and dialogue, investigating various aspects of Canada’s health care challenge, including the financial, workplace, and institutional dimensions, in an effort to develop forward-looking qualitative and quantitative analysis and solutions to make the system more sustainable.
The Conference Board of Canada will be hosting a webinar on May 5, 2015 at 11:00 a.m. looking at Medical Tourism: An Opportunity for Canada?