November 2014

Medical Tourism — A Global Trend for Patient Empowerment

Travelling for health reasons is an activity conducted by human beings since the beginnings of human society. Ancient civilisations, from the Sumerians to the Greeks and Romans built thermal health spas and temples dedicated to healing at hot springs and other locations of health significance. It seems a natural impulse to travel for treatment and health reasons to other places that offer services that in some way go above and beyond what you are offered at home and it is especially so in todays society.

In the current world of incredibly wide accessibility of information, so-called informed patients are more and more a prevalent aspect of our society. These are patients who have — thanks to access to the internet — the ability to research their condition to great depth and thus have acquired an effective understanding of their health needs. These patients are in a position, where they can make fully informed decisions in regards to their health and treatment and will usually be highly demanding and inquisitive. More information means more empowerment and these patients can easily find treatments that are either unavailable or of a higher quality or more cost-effective.


This process had originally allowed patients to find better hospitals in their cities, or countries, but now it applies globally, across borders. This is of course further enhanced by the development of international mobility; fast, easy and cheap flights which mean that within an hour and a half, one can come from London to Prague, at minimal costs. This makes it easy for people to feel like they are not really that far away from home when travelling for treatment, a requirement that is going to be quite familiar to most patients. It is not difficult to agree that patient empowerment is something we generally all support in our society; more freedom and power to the individual to have access to the widest and most effective possible ways of treatment. Individual empowerment and freedom is one of the basic tenets of modern society. As long as basic oversight systems exist, which ensure a high-standard of healthcare, then it is only logical that patients should be allowed to and be empowered to seek such healthcare.


This acceptance of medical tourism and its relation to patient empowerment and patient rights is becoming clear in the recent behaviour of major policy makers. This is especially visible in Europe. The European Commissions' 2013,Cross-Border Healthcare Directive, now enables, for example, UK patients to come to other EU countries such as the Czech Republic to seek treatment and have it funded by their own state health insurance, the NHS. This development clearly illustrates the viability and growth of medical tourism as a legitimate option for patients in Europe and worldwide and shows that policy makers are turning to this trend with seriousness. And it is further illustrated in examples, such as the much publicised case of the young Ashya King. Although Ashya’s parents faced great initial challenges in bringing their son to Prague for proton beam therapy, a type of advanced cancer treatment — which causes a lot less damage to non-cancerous tissue than traditional cancer treatments — they were finally allowed to bring their son to treatment which was fully funded by the NHS.


Furthermore, other major global institutions such as the OECD have been following the

developments of medical tourism for some time and willingly admit that Europeans are fully aware that countries such as Hungary or Czech Republic can provide excellent healthcare in many areas including dental and cosmetic surgery. And why shouldn’t patients have access to countries such as the Czech Republic and others in Europe who have a naturally high quality of health services and can easily provide for patients? The growth of the industry seems to all support this, in Czech Republic alone the number of English-speaking patients interested in seeking treatment quadrupled between 2011 and 2012. 


Overall, it seems that the individual drive for more freedom and possibilities in seeking high-quality healthcare is incentivising a growing number of people across Europe and worldwide to look for healthcare beyond the borders of their home country. This trend is becoming widely incorporated into the legal frameworks of major global policy makers which indicates that medical tourism will play a large part in the future of global healthcare.


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