Monday, May 12, 2008

Fewer Seeking Low-Cost Care Abroad Than Previously Estimated, Most Seeking Higher-Quality Care, Study Shows

From the Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report


Between 60,000 and 85,000 people annually travel abroad for inpatient hospital care, a number "far lower than commonly assumed," according to a study released Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reports. The study -- conducted by consulting firm McKinsey and led by Paul Mango, head of the firm's health care practice -- looked at the behavior of almost 50,000 patients using data from unidentified hospitals around the world, as well as government travel records and interviews with hospital officials and patients. Researchers estimated that the sample accounts for 60% to 80% of the global market and includes such patients as expatriates seeking care in the country where they live, tourists needing unexpected medical care and people traveling for care not available in their home countries.

According to the report:

* 40% of "medical travelers" identified in the report are people, mostly from developing countries, seeking the highest-quality care, not necessarily the lowest-cost;

* 32% were seeking better care than was available in their own country;

* 15% sought to avoid wait times for care in their own country, mostly the United Kingdom and Canada;

* 9% were residents of the U.S. and other countries seeking medically necessary procedures at lower costs; and

* 4% were seeking elective procedures such as plastic surgery.


According to the Journal, the report "contrasts sharply" with common assumptions and with figures often used by those who market medical tourism. "There's been an enormous amount of hype" regarding people traveling abroad to receive necessary procedures at a lower cost, Mango said. However, the report does indicate that "there remains potential for huge growth in the industry," the Journal reports. According to the report, about 710,000 procedures, which account for $35 billion in revenue, could be done overseas and save about $15,000 per procedure.

Renee-Marie Stephano, chief operating officer of the Medical Tourism Association, said the report's numbers could be slightly flawed because it only looked at a sample of facilities and hospital admissions. She added, "A large portion of the medical tourism industry is based in cosmetic procedures and dental care, which are not performed in hospitals" (Francis, Wall Street Journal, 5/6).

The San Francisco Chronicle on Sunday also examined the popularity of medical tourism. The article includes an estimate that 150,000 people sought care abroad in 2006 (Colliver, San Francisco Chronicle, 5/4).

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