More than 70,000 Britons will have treatment abroad this year – a figure that is forecast to rise to almost 200,000 by the end of the decade. Patients needing major heart surgery, hip operations and cataracts are using the internet to book operations to be carried out thousands of miles away. India is the most popular destination for surgery, followed by Hungary, Turkey, Germany, Malaysia, Poland and Spain. But dozens more countries are attracting custom. Research by the Treatment Abroad website shows that Britons have travelled to 112 foreign hospitals, based in 48 countries, to find safe, affordable treatment.
My guess is that traveling for health care is going to increase greatly in the future. Health costs in the USA are enormous. Costs in Europe are different – often in wait time (or costs to avoid waiting) but another option is available – travel. Countries would be very wise to focus on building up this industry in my opinion. The economic benefits could be huge. The market is huge and growing. And the rich countries do not appear to be doing very well – especially the USA. The country needs to invest in a rigorous quality assurance system.
It is almost certain the first attack will be attempts to frighten customers by saying your country is unsafe. And those tactics will be used to try and get the governments of rich countries to impose restraints on the ability of their citizens to seek health care in your country. So if you want to be one of the really big winners you will seek high quality first (don’t be drawn into price wars to see which country can be cheapest). That market will be there but will be much less profitable. The huge rewards will go to those countries that provide world class care at prices much cheaper than the inflated prices in the USA.
Companies with traditional plans are also taking the initiative. Blue Ridge Paper, which makes the DairyPak brand of packaging, was carved out of the forest-products firm Champion International when its employees bought a few factories that were scheduled to close. But health-care costs are hurting the company. So a Blue Ridge team plans to visit hospitals in India to assess their quality of care. If it gives the green light, Blue Ridge will begin promoting the option to its 2,000 workers.
Employees who opt for India would get to take along a family member, says Darrell Douglas, vice president of human resources, and the whole experience, including a recuperative stay at a hotel, would be covered. IndUShealth, a medical tourism start-up in Raleigh, N.C., will make all arrangements and coordinate care between U.S. and Indian providers. The sweetener: the company will share with these intrepid employees up to 25% of savings garnered from the outsourcing.
I am sure some don’t like this idea. To me the failure to address systemic health care fixes decades ago has made this almost inevitable. You cannot ignore skyrocketing health costs for decades and then be surprised that the market forces change. Work needs to be done to improve the health system in the USA. But in addition, traveling for health care will increase dramatically in the next several decades. I will be amazed if it does not. By not addressing the issues for decades the situation has become so crazy that the inefficiency of traveling for health care is overwhelmed by the ludicrously expensive costs in the USA.