Traveling for medical care is not a new phenomenon. Historical records from 19th century Europe state that the growing middle class during at that time indulged in ‘spa-travels’ to other countries as health enhancement procedures.
For a very long time, medical tourism has been referred to people traveling to another country than their own for a particular form or process of medical treatment. The usage is synonymous with ‘health tourism’ which is generally done for wellness and ayurvedic treatment.
Generally, people from lesser developed countries traveled to those with better facilities for medical treatment. The trend started shifting towards the end of the 20th century as more regional movement and international travels to clusters of medical hubs got popular. Research studies in the field indicate that qualitative treatment began being preferred over the lavish lifestyle of the First World.
Movement of patients across borders in the pursuit of medical treatment and healthcare accelerated due to globalization liberalization of trade. Under the World Trade Organization’s general agreement on Trade Services that came about in early 2000, free movement of goods has facilitated trade in healthcare services. Developments in bilateral trade agreements and regional groupings have also led to the boom in exporting and importing healthcare benefits.
The World Health Organization (WHO) dubs this as ‘medical tourism’, stating that there is no standardized definition of it except that it simply means receiving any kind of medical procedure (wellness, rejuvenation, surgery, transplants, etc.) in another country.
A 2010 review published jointly by London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals Foundation NHS Trust, University of Birmingham, titled ‘Medical Tourism: Treatments, Markets and Health Systems’, however, differentiates between medical tourism and health tourism. Accordingly, “medical tourism encompasses all those services that consumers use when traveling with the intention of getting some form of treatment.” The nature of treatment can contain a “full or a partial scope of medical treatment.” Health tourism, on the other hand, is defined as one with a wider scope. “It includes organized travel outside of the place of residence for the purpose of improving or restoring an individual’s health through various forms of medical service.” Spa and rejuvenation, wellness etc. come under health tourism.