We have been hearing and reading about Medical Tourism or Health Tourism for a while now, and it is becoming more and more common. There are different points of view about Medical Tourism. Some people think that having an operation or treatment in a exotic foreign country is very brave. Others get angry about it owing to the fact that they think that medical tourism increases public health spending. And some relate medical tourism to celebrities and wealthy people who travel abroad to have an operation because they can find the latest technology and the best doctors there.
Medical Tourism has already arrived even to Hollywood with Elysium. In this science fiction film, Max (Matt Damon) decides to go to Elysium to save his own life. There he finds machines that can cure all diseases but only few people can afford it.
However, this is not a new phenomenon. Pilgrims in the ancient world would travel to temples and other holy places in search of healing or for treatments to cure their diseases. Last century, there was a flow of medical tourists, especially in Europe, of people going to spas and areas considered as being particularly healthy in order to find a cure or a remedy for their ailments.
Worldwide, we have seen a stunning improvement of health and quality of life thanks to medical advances over the years. For instance, global infectious diseases (e.g. smallpox, polio, plague, tuberculosis) are under control or even eradicated thanks to the discovery of antibiotics and vaccines.
Nevertheless, despite those achievements and the efforts by governments and WHO (World Health Organization), the access to modern medicine is still expensive and uneven around the world. Unfortunately, this impediment is due to several reasons —lack of means, not having the appropriate means, overcrowded health services or not being able to afford the cost— circumstances that often cause deaths that could have been avoided.
“The greatest wealth is health”
There have been similar sayings and quotes about health throughout history. We all know that health is our greatest possession and so we have learnt about the importance of healthcare. Large companies in several countries have already introduced Corporate Wellness Programs in order to improve their employees’ health. Some studies show that the money a company spends on its employees’ health turns into positive results: healthcare expenses decrease while productivity increases, the quality of products improves, absenteeism from work is lower, etc.
Thus, it should not seem strange to us that Medical Tourism is an expanding global industry nowadays in a world which habitually speaks of globalisation and in which it is so easy to move from one country to another. The Medical Tourism Association estimates that this industry is worth 60 billion dollars a year. Thanks to Medical Tourism, countries such as India or Turkey have become prominent Medical Tourism destinations in the world and, consequently, have been able to improve their healthcare systems and facilities.
Spain has the potential to become one of the best medical tourism destinations in the world: its quality healthcare system holding 7th position in the WHO ranking is strategically located in Europe and it is a wonderful tourist destination. However, this is not an easy task as there is much competition and this kind of tourism involves specific needs: the Medical Tourist is neither the usual tourist nor the usual patient.
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