Do the numbers of medical tourism make sense?

According to a new report on medical tourism from McKinsey “Between 60,000 and 85,000 people annually travel abroad for inpatient hospital care, a number… far lower than commonly assumed”.

According to a new report on medical tourism from McKinsey (login required):

  • “Between 60,000 and 85,000 people annually travel abroad for inpatient hospital care, a number…..far lower than commonly assumed”.

According to the Wall Street Journal:

  • … the McKinsey 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 (from McKinsey) said.

So what are we to make of this “authoritative” report…..?

One industry insider who has compiled a comprehensive review of medical tourism suggests:

  • “The McKinsey figures are nonsensical……looking just at figures from Asia for travellers from Asia and the Gulf, they are way way out.”

One problem with the McKinsey data is that it relies heavily on government statistics, and few governments record medical travel. Even where figures are collected then they do not include home nationals who work overseas going back for treatment, or US and other residents returning to a country of origin for treatment.

It’s also a strange method of counting medical tourists, if you decide to leave out:

  • people travelling across borders for treatment, which would include UK to France or Belgium, Canada to the US, the US to Mexico, Mexico to the US , China to Taiwan or Hong Kong, central Africa to South Africa , Ireland to the UK, etc etc.
  • people travelling back to their homeland for treatment.
  • people travelling to the homeland of their parents/grandparents
  • expatriates working overseas
  • people who decide to mix travel and treatment eg UK travellers to Spain, South Africa
  • people who mix business travel and treatment
  • people who live in two countries eg UK and Spain
  • .all outpatients

Other oddities… If they reckon the number of medical tourists are 60,000 to 85,000 worldwide, how does this stack up against other reported data:

  • 70,000 – 100,000 UK medical tourists (from our own Treatment Abroad medical tourism researchand the UK International Passenger Survey data)
  • Last year, 92,000 patients from the UAE visited the Philippines.
  • One dental clinic alone in Budapest that is treating over 4,000 patients from abroad each year.
  • 10,000 visitors to Korea last year for medical treatment, according to the Korean Tourism Organisation.
  • Singapore Tourism Board says 555,000 tourists received medical treatment in 2006.

And overall… it is a little strange to say that someone travelling overseas for a hip operation is a medical tourist, but someone travelling for a dental extraction or cosmetic surgery is not.
Whatever the real numbers are, McKinsey did conclude:

  • “Medical travel is a highly relevant market …….. The acceleration of unsustainable health care costs in many developed economies, the advent of advanced technologies in just a few locations, and the increasing concentration of wealth in developing economies are only a few of the factors fueling it. Over the next couple of decades, these trends may largely dispel the idea that health care is a purely local service”


So… good news for the medical travel industry!