Outside of the United States, going to another country for medical care can lead to survival and recovery for patients otherwise facing certain death or long waits for treatment at home. Nigeria has no oncological care to speak of, so cancer-stricken citizens are increasingly going abroad for modern care. Battle-wounded Syrians are getting life-saving surgeries in Turkish hospitals. Canadians come to the U.S. to avoid average wait times of four months for non-emergency procedures.
If the double whammy of Obamacare, which will be fully up and running in 2014, and a rapidly aging population creates pronounced health-care shortages, more and more Americans may soon start looking abroad for fast, affordable, and effective treatments for all sorts of medical problems.
The global health-care industry is booming, which is creating new opportunities for medical travelers to purchase everything from discount dental work to state-of-the-art heart surgery. The international accreditation agency known as Joint Commission International evaluates the quality of hospitals around the world. It has given its stamp of approval to 546 hospitals worldwide and the list is growing faster than ever.
Foreign governments and hospitals are staking big dollars on promotion and infrastructure in an effort to burnish their reputations as medical destinations. That enthusiasm was on display last October at a medical tourism industry conference in Miami, which drew participants from 90 countries. Turkey, which paid close to $100,000 in exchange for prominent branding at the conference, drew 500,000 foreign patients in 2011. Medical tourists brought the country $3.5 billion in revenue in 2011, according to the head of the Turkish Healthcare Travel Council, Emin Çakmak.