Nearly a third of people surveyed around the world say they are open to the idea of medical tourism - travelling abroad to enjoy cheaper medical or dental treatment, according to a new Ipsos poll of 18 731 adults in 24 countries.
Indeed, 18% said they would definitely consider it.
"The concept of medical tourism is well accepted in many countries," said Nicolas Boyon, senior vice president of Ipsos Public Affairs. "With the exception of Japan there are at least one third of consumers in every country we covered that are open to the idea," he said.
Medical travel growing
Whether for economic reasons or perceptions of superior treatment elsewhere, for treatments ranging from cosmetic to life-saving surgeries, Indians, Indonesians, Russians, Mexicans and Poles were the most open to the idea of being medically mobile.
Thirty-one percent or more people in each of those countries said they would definitely consider travelling for a medical or dental treatment.
Conversely, people in Japan, South Korea, Spain and Sweden were least likely to be medical tourists.
Boyon said it was not surprising that men and women from emerging nations would be medically mobile if the treatments were cheaper.
"This probably reflects perceptions of medical care in other countries that is superior to what is available at home," he said.
But he was intrigued by the percentage of people in developed nations such as Italy, where 66% said they would definitely or probably consider medical tourism, along with Germany (48%), Canada (41%) and the United States, where 38% of people were open to the idea.
"It is a reflection that the medical profession is no longer protected from globalisation," Boyon said.
Risks vs. benefits
Although medical tourism spans a range of treatments, the most common are dental care, cosmetic surgery, elective surgery and fertility treatment, according to an OECD report.
"The medical tourist industry is dynamic and volatile and a range of factors including the economic climate, domestic policy changes, political instability, travel restrictions, advertising practises, geo-political shifts, and innovative and pioneering forms of treatment may all contribute towards shifts in patterns of consumption and production of domestic and overseas health services," the report said.
Various studies using different criteria have estimated that anywhere between 60 000 to 750 000 US residents travel abroad for health care each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Along with variations among countries, the Ipsos survey showed that younger adults under 35 years of age were more likely in most countries to consider medical tourism than people 50 to 64 years old.
In India, 86% of young adults said they would consider medical tourism, along with 77% in China, and 71% in Italy.
Boyon suggested that the cost of travel, proximity, borders and quality of care may also be factors considered by potential medical tourists. In both Italy and Germany, about 20% of adults said they would definitely consider medical tourism. Both countries are near Hungary, a popular destination for health treatments.
Ipsos conducted the poll in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and the United States.
(Reuters Health, November 2012)