Patients out of the borders – medical tourism on the rise

Linh Ngan
Linh Ngan
06:30:06 - July 23, 2020

As cost is one of the most crucial elements in medical tourism, many Asian countries become ideal destinations for medical travelers.

What is medical tourism?

Medical tourism typically involves people who have a need for medical treatment taking an oversea trip to a destination where there are hospitals or medical centers providing relatively affordable health care or medical procedures. What really puts the word “tourism” in medical tourism concept is that people often stay in a foreign country after the medical procedure. Travelers can thus take advantage of their visit by sightseeing, taking day trips or participating in any other traditional tourism activities.

And since some of these hospitals/medical centers are in regions that also have tourist appeal to international travelers, these patients may actually be tempted to put together a package deal, with the savings on the procedure effectively subsidizing the tourism. Tourism might even be a major motivation for the whole trip.

What is driving medical tourism?


The motivation for medical tourism is generally the cost. Originally, people from developing countries tend to seek quality medical care in other developed countries. But everything has changed. Nowadays people in developed countries are considering taking a medical trip to less developed countries as some hospitals there have gained a reputation for performing quality work at relatively low cost. For patients facing an expensive procedure that is not covered by their insurance, traveling to a low-cost provider overseas can help them with some significant savings indeed.


Besides the cost, the quality is also an essential feature that medical tourists take seriously before coming to a decision. The quality, in this case, consists of both technical quality and service quality. The service quality in medical tourism, including the services of medical staff as well as nurses and doctors towards patients, plays a more important role for the hospitals/destinations to attract medical tourists.

Treatment types

Medical tourism can offer a wide range of treatments from medical to traditional and alternative. These treatment types may vary from countries to countries depending on the availability of certain technologies or permission from the home law. For example, the stem cell therapy is one of the most controversial treatments that are unavailable at quite many countries; Singapore, however, is an exception, which makes it become the top option when medical tourists in need of advanced medical treatment.

Common medical procedures that medical tourists usually seek are cosmetic surgery, dentistry, organ transplantation, cardiac surgery and orthopedic surgery, so the countries that are well-known for these types of procedures may take the lead in medical tourism.

Destinations within Asia noted for medical tourism

These following destinations are the locations of many hospitals qualified international health accreditation by prestigious organizations such as the Joint Commission International (JCI), the Medical Travel Quality Alliance (MTQUA). Moreover, the hospitals in these destinations are usually convenient for patients to take a trip to touristic attractions besides their scheduled medical procedures.

1. India

India becomes famous in the medical tourism industry as it strives to provide health care services with cutting-edge technologies. Healthcare in India saves patients between 65% to 90% of money compared to the cost of similar services in the US, making India one of the most visited countries for health care.

For patients in need of cardiac and orthopedic surgeries, India is growing in medical travel popularity. Cities like Delhi, Bangalore, and Mumbai are seeing a 30% yearly increase in medical procedures from travelers hailing from Canada, the U.S., and Europe.

Patients visit India not only for the quality and affordability of healthcare service but also for the beautiful scenery and architecture in India’s landscape. In India, medical travel brings a mix of pleasure, luxury, and quality healthcare for medical travelers.

Zulekha Hospital Dubai has achieved accreditation for the quality of care for international patients from the MTQUA in 2019. Besides, many other hospitals in India are accredited by the National Accreditation Board for Hospitals and Healthcare Providers (NABH), MTQUA and JCI as well.

Some private hospitals in India now provide health care packages for foreign patients which offer pick-ups from the airport to the hospital, free in-room Wi-Fi, and private chefs.

Additionally, in India, there is close to zero waiting time, as scheduling surgery or intervention is done quickly once the diagnosis is confirmed.

2. Singapore

With a healthcare system that ranks sixth in the world according to the World Health Organization, Singapore attracts thousands of international patients each year. Singaporean hospitals are specialized in various specialties including cardiology, hematology, oncology, neurology, stem cell therapy, and orthopedics.

Singapore has one of the most sophisticated hospital systems in the world. Singapore’s status as one of the world’s freest economies, as well as a highly developed nation, has made it a medical tourism hub for both Asians and Westerners for years.

Cancer treatment is a top speciality in Singapore. The MTQUA accredited Gleneagles Hospital was ranked among the top ten hospitals around the globe by a health travel group, but many other hospitals offer excellent care as well.

The World Health Organization ranks Singapore as the best health care system in Asia. Its health care model is considered as efficient and may become a model for the rest of the world. Indeed, personal responsibility is a key driver that keeps health care costs here reasonably low.

In addition, Singapore’s liberal laws allow for the study and use of stem cells in medical practice, making it an invaluable destination for certain patients that are looking for this treatment in their trips.

3. South Korea

As a world leader in both spinal surgeries and cancer screenings, South Korea is one of the most technologically advanced medical countries in the world. The country even built a whole website specialized in medical tourism called Visit Medical Korea, providing medical travelers with countless options for medical tourism packages along with various information about its hospitals and medical services.

Its Seoul National University Bundang Hospital achieved Global Healthcare Accreditation in 2019 and its Yonsei University Health System also qualified JCI accreditation. Besides, many other South Korean hospitals consider electronic health records and fully digitized equipment standards as well as offering the finest treatments from dentistry, plastic surgery to cancer treatment.

Because of its recent growth in popularity, the cost of medical operations is on the rise as well. However, considering treatments range from organ transplantation to spinal treatments to cosmetic procedures, South Korea gives patients plenty of specialty options at high quality to meet their satisfaction.

4. Malaysia

Malaysia was recognized as the Health and Medical Tourism Destination of the year by the International Medical Travel Journal in consecutive years 2015 and 2016, gradually marking its reputation among other excellent providers of healthcare in all of South-East Asia.

Many Malaysian hospitals offer excellent patient comfort with five-star rooms that look more like hotel suites than hospital rooms. In Prince Court Medical Centre, for example, there are indoor pools for hydrotherapy. Prince Court Medical Center was also ranked the number one hospital for “patients without borders” by the MTQUA.

At both Penang international airports and Kuala Lumpur airports, is the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC) which provides lounge and concierge services to medical tourists to ensure their comfort from the very minute they arrive in Malaysia.

Medical travelers who visit Malaysia may save up to between 65% and 80% on treatment cost compared to one in the US.

5. Thailand

Besides being well-known for its unique hospitality and exotic beaches, Thailand is also reputed for its advanced dental work as well as cosmetic and dermatological procedures. Having the highest number of internationally accredited hospitals in South-East Asia (around 44 JCI accredited hospitals), Thailand draws a good number of medical travelers each year.

Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok, accredited by Global Health Accreditation for medical services, is one of the best hospitals in Thailand. It alone provides advanced healthcare services to over 400,000 medical tourists per year. In addition, Thailand also has Samitivej Sukhumvit Hospital, recognized as a hospital that puts patients first, with an award-winning facility providing internationally accredited quality with both JCI and MTQUA accreditation.

The rich culture and beauty of this Asian country even offer private recovery gardens, Thai massage and other forms of relaxation therapies Thailand is known for. Medical services in Thailand saves a patient 50% to 75% on medical expenses they would have incurred for similar services in the US.

*The countries in this article are organized by random order.


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