Telemedicine is a Growth Driver of
Worldwide Medical Tourism
Medical tourism represents the maturation of a cottage industry with a likely growth trajectory in excess of 35 percent annually. It will no doubt experience “growing pains” as business models emerge, quality is better defined and the value proposition to customers improves.
Medical tourism is not without challenges; the industry is still young. The guidelines released by the AMA have helped to provide structure to an industry that has been mostly unregulated. State legislatures and health insurance companies have launched initiatives to explore the potential benefits of incorporating medical tourism into health plans. While bills have failed to pass in West Virginia and Colorado, there is now a precedent for future propositions at the state level. In addition, pilot programs by health insurers will provide insight into medical tourism’s ability to reduce costs by sending beneficiaries abroad for medical care.
Its biggest hurdle will be quality of care. While AMA guide- lines have established a foundation, additional steps will be needed to set appropriate quality standards that extend from pre-operative care to post-discharge and follow-up. Accreditation and oversight by neutral overseers – JCI, Patients Beyond Borders and others – will be important.
Though the economic downturn prompted a temporary slowdown in medical tourism growth, as consumers elected to delay non-urgent medical procedures, its recovery is likely as is the substantial role it will play as a technology-enabled innovation with a strong value proposition for targeted patient populations.
Several emerging U.S. health care industry trends could fuel the demand for medical tourism.
Telemedicine Provides Crucial Follow-up Medical Care.
A consistent problem of finding doctors to provide follow-up care for procedures done overseas, is now solved with telemedicine. With an international EMR (See the EMR) US Tele-Medicine doctors read notes, see lab reports, procedure notes, imaging and directives from the overseas attending physician. This way the patient returns home knowing the complete medical record is avaualble as needed and US doctors are ready 24 hours per day to provide qualified personalized follow-up care. The process is really quite simple, see it HERE.
Increased demand for outpatient surgery
The number of outpatient surgical procedures performed in the United States has tripled from 1996 to 2006. In 2006 alone, almost 35 million patients had outpatient surgery.24 This growth has been due, in part, to enhanced technology that allows many patients to go home just several hours after a procedure, rather than days later. The increase in patient demand for these surgeries has been accompanied by the growth of outpatient surgical centers and free- standing facilities. Since outpatient surgeries comprise almost 75 percent of medical tourism procedures and, for many of these, consumer out-of-pocket payments are high, the option of medical tourism will be attractive.
Increased sophistication of medical tourism operations
The medical tourism industry is evolving with increased attention to perioperative care coordination, risk management, safety and outcome management, and transparency. As health insurers and employers consider adding medical tourism options to benefits programs, hosts of these programs will become more sophisticated.
Increased coverage/demand for dental surgery
As the population continues to age, the demand for dental surgery continues to grow. Also, greater focus on preventive services will likely increase the number of visits to the dentist each year. The American Dental Association expects a significant proportion of dentists to retire over the next 20 years;25 medical tourism could help to ease this supply- demand mismatch.
Increased demand for cosmetic surgery
Despite the slowdown of the U.S. economy, the demand for cosmetic procedures, such as plastic surgery, has not decreased.26 The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery estimates that Americans spent almost $13.2 billion on cosmetic surgeries in 2007 alone. In the U.K., estimates project that the number of cosmetic procedures nearly doubled from 2005 to 2007.27 The growing demand for these procedures could potentially be alleviated by medical tourism.
Increased globalization of the U.S. workforce
More than half of the U.S. workforce will be of second- third-generation foreign descent in the next 25 years. The coupling of planned visits “home” with elective surgical procedures will increase as insurance plans and employers pursue this workforce, and as these citizens/visitors express desire to return to their ancestral home for care by clinicians more culturally accepting of their preferences and values.
Increased access to low-cost global transportation
Low-cost air carriers and special off-peak pricing by major air carriers will enhance access to medical tourism opportunities for U.S. outbound patients.
Thanks to Deloitte for Data.