How to fake a medical tourism “most popular” list

Medical tourism information sometimes stinksHold your nose, because information about medical tourism sometimes stinks.

But this is no surprise to most medical travel professionals.

From Forbes to Treatment Abroad and the Medical Tourism Association, it seems no one can resist listing the best, the most popular, the trendiest medical destinations. Oh, wait, there is no “trendiest” list of medical tourism “hotspots” … yet.

Many of these lists, for lack of ANY criteria, are manufactured from thin air. The people who create these lists are under the mistaken impression that this sort of false advertising will draw medical tourists. Their purpose is to promote, mislead, or spam.

You know a list of medical tourism leading destinations is fake if …

  1. It contains the phrase “medical tourists are flocking to”
  2. It includes doubtful destinations like Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka or Australia
  3. It doesn’t include India and Thailand, the most popular destinations
  4. It promises 10 but lists only 8 destinations
  5. You’ve never heard of the “author” or the “source”
  6. The authors pretend not to have a financial interest in promoting a particular destination or provider there
  7. It includes just about every country you’ve heard of that might possibly be, or aspires to be, a medical destination

What are other signs that tell you the list of popular or top or best or leading medical tourism destinations is false?


5 Responses to How to fake a medical tourism “most popular” list

  1. IAN YOUNGMAN says:


    This is nothing to do with IMTJ

    The figures are from my research which takes it from thousands of sources.

    For EVERY country -unless there is no information at all on numbers -i do not just give one interpretation – i mention ALL sources and all the rival claims – when they were made, by whom and when – and i analyse any obvious flaws in the figures

    ” I find the comment that “Even Hungary and Poland each have double the numbers of India or Thailand” mind boggling. ”

    India’s own government figures from a major research specialist put medical tourism at just above

    Hungary’s figures come from a Hungarian economist and also from a reputable European research group that does reports on healthcare -neither has any reason to fudge the figures ; they argue on exact numbers but both put numbers at 300,000 plus -80% of which is dental

    Poland’s figures come from the Poland Association of Medical Tourism and why they are believable is that they had the courage to admit that in 2010 the recession cut numbers by a quarter ; but 2011 and 2012 figures are increasing and looks at around the 300,000 mark for 2012.

    Poland and Hungary use ‘ pure ‘ figures ie real medical tourists -not spa or healh tourism and unlike most Asian and Arab figures not counting business and holiday travellers , expatriates, outpatients buying drugs, diplomats or foreign military-or in one case, war wounded.

    Thailand regularly boasts of millions but even the Ministry of Health has admitted that in the figures they use for international patients – at the most , only 70% are medical tourists.

    Then -when you drill down into the figures after taking off people who are not actually medical tourists-

    Thaland is the ONLY country in the world that counts a medical traveller in a unique way -by trips – so if you go in for a check up, then the surgery the next day, then post op check up -Thai hospitals count you as 3 medical tourists !

    There is argument – and this comes from 3 separate sources with no links and all using sepoarate sources – a Thai doctors association, the WHO and Boston Consulting -that even after taking off the 30% of international travellers who are not medical tourists – and also( being very kind by just dividing by 3 ) -the Ministry figures are very dodgy as they come from Thai hospitals who exaggerate numbers.

    Both Boston and WHO have looked at Thailand and other countries and have worked out formulae for getting medical tourism figures from international patient figures-one says cut it in half , the oher says it is less than 1 in 3

    Neither the Thai doctors, nor the WHO nor Boston Consulting have any reason to fake figures or exaggerate or do down figures.

    Other people have looked at Thai hospital claims on numbers and applied the normal logics of patient numbers to beds- the kindest interpretation is that even if no Thais were treated in Thai hospitals – some boasted numbers would mean two or three patients in a bed at the same time.

    My background is not health or tourism but 30 plus years of research-back to days before the internet .

    Neither IMTJ not TA has any influence on figures in my reports -nor is TA a source of figures other than what they put out publicly from research- in fact Keith has not even seen a copy of the 2012 report or extracts !

    There are huge imperfections in medical tourism figures- but if the travel industry can produce agreed figures in and out and by source and destination for every country -then perhaps eventually MT can too -but while countries engage in ‘ my inflated figures are bigger than your figures’ garbage , and while trade associations are keener on flogging conferences and other services – and slagging off anyone who dares to disagree with their inflated guesses ( i dont mean you Julie ! ) – we will exist in ignorance.

    • Julie Munro says:

      Ian, You know I respect your scholarship, and agree with you that “There are huge imperfections in medical tourism figures”.

      But it doesn’t necessarily follow that your sources are better than mine, or that the Poland Association of Medical Tourism or the Thai doctors association et al provide any better data than anyone else has up to now.

      Have you had a chance to see the new infographic produced by MTQUA? The changing world of value in medical tourism shows Poland coming on strong as a medical destination, and Thailand losing ground.

    • Sumit Pawar says:

      “India’s own government figures from a major research specialist put medical tourism at just above 150,000”

      With all due respect Mr.Ian there is a serious discrepancy in this statement as data Collection methods of Indian Government are not up to the mark, Indian government only count the Patient which come in the country under Medical Visa(Which is comparatively harder to get than tourist Visas ) plenty of Patients comes under Tourist Visas which are not counted in.

      Sumit Pawar

  2. IAN YOUNGMAN says:


    By your own logic your “top ten hospitals ” is a fake !

    Thailand and India are NOT the most popular destinatons-on global terms they jusyt about scrape into the top ten by numbers

    Malaysia has FIVE TIMES the number of medical tourists as India ( both figures are from their own governments-not some outsider)

    Even Hungary and Poland each have double the numbers of India or Thailand

    When Thai hospitals stop counting every trip by the same patient as a new medical; traveller, every backpacker buying OTC drugs from hospitals, every expat etc as medical tourists we may see true comparisons.

    Numbers are not everything -recent US official figures , not some half-baked association, show that for every $ spent by an outbound medical tourist, inbound ones spend $6.5 US dollars


    When Thaiiland stopscounting each hosital

    • Julie Munro says:


      You’re referring, of course, to the Medical Travel Quality Alliance list of Top 10 World’s Best Hospitals for Medical Tourists. This list is adjudicated by established professionals mostly in health care but also in other relevant professions. Most do not participate in medical tourism-related businesses or activities. The hospitals are evaluated according to a set of criteria that are explained on the website. It is not a popularity contest or a trend-spotting list.

      International Medical Travel Journal and Medical Travel Quality Alliance both work hard to do a decent job of reporting, analyzing and understanding what goes on in medical tourism around the world. Your perspective is European, ours is Asian and American so we will differ from time to time in our observations.

      Perhaps instead of writing “India and Thailand, the most popular destinations”, I should have more accurately written, “India and Thailand, considered by many to be the most popular destinations”. I stand corrected.

      I find the comment that “Even Hungary and Poland each have double the numbers of India or Thailand” mind boggling. I do think you/Treatment Abroad/International Medical Travel Journal are dreadfully wrong about the numbers of medical travelers seeking medical care in Thailand.

      I work in Bangkok. I stay abreast of medical tourism activity in other countries, in Asia, Europe and elsewhere. I see the patient flows in the hospitals. I talk to hospital managers, to facilitators and to doctors. Bangkok has many hundreds of international traveling patients seeking medical treatment every day – and I’m referring to surgery, cancer treatment, cardiac procedures and other major medical. Include all those seeking dental care, IVF, hair transplantation etc, and the picture is pretty clear.

      It would be so interesting if International Medical Travel Journal could do an exemplary in-depth analysis of the actual numbers of the different types of medical tourists, their origins, their destinations, types of treatments and procedures sought, value of treatments received, etc.

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