Medical Tourism Explained

Shopping for the best healthcare options

For many foreign nationals living in Japan, searching for clothes that fit and finding that special delicacy you miss from back home is a quickly acquired skill. When we can’t find what we are seeking in a local shop, we’ve learned how to order online from trusted e-vendors or how to have it sent directly from overseas.

When it comes to healthcare, many people are just starting to recognise that we also have options when shopping for quality diagnosis and treatment.

Travelling for medical care, also known as medical tourism, medical travel or healthcare travel, is a rapidly growing industry valued upwards of $60bn annually.

Many countries, including Japan, are becoming part of the international healthcare marketplace. Governments, medical facilities and firms around the world have joined together to court and serve patients from across their borders.

It is estimated that each year about 1mn US residents travel overseas for healthcare. Malaysia and Thailand report receiving 700,000 and 1mn medical travellers per year, respectively. A rising number of countries are realising they have something to offer in the medical arena to overseas patients.

So why do people travel for healthcare?

• Faster access to treatment
• Cheaper procedures
• Higher-quality healthcare
• Access to specialists
• Unique treatments
• Better outcomes
• Anonymity
• Combine with holiday travel

Japan offers some outstanding healthcare options, and depending on the specialty, prices can be more reasonable than back home, wherever home may be.

While Japanese medical skills are top-class in areas such as cardiology, gastrointestinal cancer treatments and high-end health examinations, there are some hurdles that can dampen the experience.

Language can be a barrier, thorough explanations are sometimes lacking and good bedside manner may not be considered as important as in our home countries. Certain elective procedures can also be pricey.

Other countries in Asia offer excellent healthcare options in internationally accredited facilities with globally trained doctors speaking English, Japanese, Arabic and many other languages.

Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore offer luxury accommodation in five-star hospital settings with state-of-the-art equipment. A wide array of innovative fertility (such as in vitro fertilisation), orthopaedic, dental, weight loss and other procedures are available at prices just a fraction of those in the US and Europe.

Korea has also become well known for its cosmetic surgery prowess as well as its high quality of healthcare in cardiology and cancer treatments.

Prices can vary, but a few examples quickly illustrate the cost effectiveness of medical travel. Dental implants in Thailand can be less than half the price of those in Japan. A hip replacement in the US can cost as much as $200,000 while the same procedure maxes out in Asia at about $14,000.

A heart bypass can cost $70,000 to $100,000 in the US, but runs between $7,000 and $22,000 in Asia. One does have to consider additional costs for travel, accommodation and follow-up as well as the time required for certain procedures.

Nevertheless, from a quality and financial perspective it can make a lot of sense to consider a trip for healthcare. Besides, sometimes the trip itself is an added benefit.

When embarking on a medical travel experience, a patient should consider the availability of physicians, cost, insurance coverage, quality and time required for the medical procedure.

If you need only one dental implant, it might not make sense. If you need several, the benefits of a trip or two to an internationally accredited facility in Malaysia, Thailand or another destination known for quality care can quickly become apparent.

For more information, visit HealthyIM.com.