There tends to be a lot of myths about the scope and integrity of medical tourism. Let me try to set some straight.
Medical tourism or medical travel or health travel, whatever you want to call it, has a tendency to get a lot of crap from people. Especially in the U.S. This includes everyone from people in the healthcare industry to people you just have a casual conversation with. When Rishi, my partner/brother, or I talk about Navigation Health, the medical tourism focused tech venture we’re working on, we usually get one of two reactions:
Approval and buy-in: “That’s really cool. I know healthcare can be @#$% expensive in this country. And it makes sense for other people that don’t have the kind of healthcare they need where they live.”
The crap I mentioned earlier: “That sounds super sketch. Why would anyone travel to get surgery let alone in a different country? You’d have no idea how it’s going to be. That’s probably why it’s cheaper. I don’t think there’s a market for this guys but good luck…”
Everyone’s entitled to their opinion and I know Rishi and I are always up for a good challenge. I’ve learned quickly not everyone’s going to buy-in to your startup. Some people will give you emphatic belief in it, some may be apathetic, and a lot will be hella skeptical. That’s fine. In fact, it’s good – it lights a fire under your ass…
But still — let me tell you why the second reaction I outlined is crap.
I’ll set straight 2 medical tourism myths:
(1) Medical tourism isn’t a thing.
There’s an entire “medical tourism ecosystem” consisting of international healthcare providers, facilitators, accreditation agencies and insurers. A big part of Navigation Health’s value prop is to link all these stakeholders together more coherently through technology.
Moreover, there are conservatively 300+ internationally accredited (JCI) hospitals around the world with dedicated international patient programs designed to attract and deliver globally recognized standards of care to medical tourists, including those from the U.S. If you include non-JCI hospitals, this number is well into the thousands.
Looking at the reverse trend, there are at least 70 hospitals in the U.S., that are part of a federally recognized coalition, called USCIPP, the US Cooperative for International Patient Programs. These include hospitals like New York Presbyterian, Harvard Med, Memorial Hermann… in other words, the best of the best. If hospitals like these are investing in targeted medical tourism efforts, marketing to patients in countries like Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Canada, etc., there’s probably something there right?
Perhaps the industry estimates that there will be 10+ million medical tourists in the next year are inflated, but if so many hospitals are investing millions of dollars in marketing toward them, there clearly has been some success in the arena.
Takeaway: Thousands of hospitals around the world don’t invest millions of dollars in medical tourism programs on a hunch. Medical tourism is a thing.
(2) It’s cheap for a reason.
Of course, this doesn’t apply to medical tourists coming in to New York Pres, Harvard and other U.S. hospitals. Naturally, originators of reaction 2 are super skeptical when you tell them you can get the same procedure done in Costa Rica and Mexico at 50% of the U.S. cost, in Thailand at 70% and in India up to 90%1. When some people hear this, their imaginations automatically wander off to an image something like this:
“If it’s cheap, it’s cheap cause the guy is going to a @#$%ty-$@# hospital in a @#$%ty country.”
But in reality, some of the internationally accredited hospitals, that offer these same 70-90% cost-savings to a medical tourist in the U.S, look like this:
I’d venture to say you have less than a 50/50 shot of going to any U.S. hospital and it looking that damn good. Beyond the quality of the facilities, a significant number of the physicians at these hospitals have been trained abroad in countries like the U.S. and U.K. and are thus just as qualified as any doctor in the U.S. to administer medical care.
So why is it so much cheaper? I could probably write a 5,000 word essay on that subject, but some of the most salient reasons for such affordable care abroad include:
- Lower cost of living (e.g., lower wages for doctors and nurses)
- Less administrative cost (e.g., with insurers)
- Focus on efficient care delivery as a product of private investment
- More price sensitive patient population
And of course, the large delta in cost is due to how expensive U.S. care is. A few factors driving this include:
- High cost of living (e.g., high wages for doctors and nurses)
- U.S. subsidization of R&D in healthcare technology & pharma
- Presence and bargaining power of “middle-men” insurance companies
- Fee-for-service model
Takeaway: Medical tourists can get super affordable healthcare at no expense of a quality experience. Market fundamentals make this possible.
Medical tourism exists in a very real and arguably growing way. Consumer (patient) facing solutions offering:
- Quality information about the medical tourism process
- A network of vetted, internationally accredited hospitals and doctors
- Clear and fair package pricing for major procedures
- Secure medical record sharing to enable appropriate diagnosis and follow-up care
- Teleconsultation technology for pre and post-operative consultations
are emerging more and more, including Navigation Health.