How Big is the Medical Tourism Industry? Part 2: How many?

welcomeHow many medical tourists are there? How quickly will the numbers grow in the future?

The question that won’t go away … and there is no agreement as to the answer. Here, in part 2, we review how large the industry is in terms of numbers of people.

The number of medical tourists is the other important way in which the size of the medical tourism industry is reviewed. How many medical tourists are there? Once again, we find significant variance in the numbers describing medical tourists.

Aside from accurate counts, no one seems to agree who makes up a medical tourist or even what activities should be counted for those we call medical tourists.

Who is in? And who is out?

It’s common for many countries to simply count the number of patients presenting foreign passports when registering at a hospital or clinic.

Counting passports includes groups that many would argue should not be counted as medical tourists:

  • expatriate residents who visit their neighborhood clinic,
  • tourists who visit emergency departments because they were in a major road accident or simply have a bout of “Delhi belly,” “Montezuma’s revenge,” or the “Turkey trot.”

Counting “foreign” passports excludes those that probably should be counted as medical tourists:

  • the growing diaspora of travelers returning to homelands using their native passports or passports of birth instead of the passports of their newly adopted homes.

Some exclude medical travelers whose home countries pay for specific treatments abroad. In other words, Scandinavians who spend winters in the tropics and may need medical intervention abroad, paid by their governments, may not be counted for this reason. Excluded for this reason would also be Omani, Kuwaiti or other citizens in Middle East countries and elsewhere whose governments routinely pay for medical expenses abroad.

Pick another number – Estimates and projections cover a wide range.

Here are a few numbers of medical tourists currently in use across the internet, along with the year the estimates and projections were first published and whether they are currently in use. Most provide no source for the information.

Global size of medical tourism

  • 2016:  International Medical Travel Journal: 7 million medical tourists, with no recent growth
  • 2016:  Patients Beyond Borders: 11 million consumers
  • 2015:  Patients Beyond Borders: 14 million patients
  • 2015:  RNCOS: 10 million medical tourists in Asia, with CAGR growth of 22% from 2014-2018

India medical tourism

  • 2012:  Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI)-KPMG: projected 3.2 million medical tourists coming to India in 2016 (annual CAGR 27%)

USA medical tourism

  • 2016:  U.S. Government Centers for Disease Control: 750,000 US residents are medical travelers
  • 2014: Medical Tourism Association: 1.2 million US cross-border medical travelers
  • 2013: Patients Beyond Borders: 900,000 Americans traveled overseas for treatment
  • 2012: Deloitte: up to 1.6 million US medical travelers
  • 2010: Deloitte: 875,000 US medical travelers

[If anyone has other data for the number of medical tourists traveling, please feel free to add to this list, citing the source.]

Part 1: What is the value of the medical tourism industry? How large will it grow?

Part 3: Who are the medical tourists?


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