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Will those who are 50-plus want to go abroad for medical and health treatment?

Updated: May 20, 2020

Medical tourism is expanding rapidly. The idea of going abroad to have medical treatment has become increasingly appealing for many people, young and old, living in developed countries. They can often get the same surgery more cheaply in developing countries, such as Thailand, India, or Brazil.

There is a problem with the definition of medical tourism, however, as it can be used interchangeably with health tourism. Wellness tourism, transplant tourism, reproductive tourism, and dental tourism are terms that are also used.

There are some authors who argue that the term medical tourism should not be used at all as it implies that clients always have some component of leisure attached. They usually do. People often stay in a country for another one or two weeks after surgery to enjoy the attractions.

I think one of the best definitions is this one.[1]

“Based on these characteristics, medical tourism in this study is defined as the phenomenon of travelling across national borders to intentionally access a variety of medical treatments which can be necessary or elective for medical tourists. These medical treatments can be all services which are offered in hospitals, including serious invasive surgeries such as cardiac surgery, but also light procedures such as health screenings as well as Botox or derma fillers.”

The key word here is “intentionally”.

Activities associated with health tourism to enjoy spas or massages which do not occur in hospitals are not considered to be medical tourism. India, which has a big health market has many spa and massage centres and offers other health treatments. The Indian government has launched a portal to promote this.

Uncertainty about what may happen in the hospital system is pushing an increasing number of Westerners to go abroad for surgery. The UK is a good example. Health sector commentator, Keith Pollard writes: “The uncertainty in the NHS is pushing more UK patients to consider treatment abroad”.[2]

“Lack of funding, staff shortages, growing demand from an ageing population, and the uncertainty around Brexit are all contributing to an unprecedented increase in UK patients exploring the options for low cost treatment abroad,” he adds.

patients exploring the options for low cost treatment abroad,” he adds.

In the Daily Mail (dated 24 February), there’s an article entitled: “Nurses will be trained to perform surgical procedures under a radical NHS drive to slash waiting times.”

Under the proposal, qualified nurses will be responsible for procedures including the removal of hernias, benign cysts and some skin cancers, the journalist writes.

With long wait times, as well as other factors such as staff shortages, it’s no wonder that low cost treatment abroad looks appealing.

Other articles say the same thing. An article from 2019 states: “The number of older people with unmet care and support needs is increasing substantially due to the challenges facing the formal and informal care system in the United Kingdom.”[3]

Photo: by Carole Railton (copyright). "Are people who are 50-plus prepared to go abroad for medical and health treatment?"

People from the US and other Western countries are also looking at going abroad for surgery.

However, we are still left to ponder a question. Are people who are 50-plus prepared to go abroad for medical and health treatment? For those who can afford to have treatment abroad, there is a clearly a big market. However, there are those who prefer to stay in their own country. Governments will have to look at the needs of this sector.

  1. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2019, 16, 496


  3. Understanding the care and support needs of older people: a scoping review and categorisation using the WHO international classification of functioning, disability and health framework (ICF)

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