Medical tourism is a growing market in Australia and it is important you understand the limitations of your health insurance and travel insurance coverage.
Medical tourism is when individuals travel overseas to get medical care or procedures, usually because of the lower cost of treatment or because the treatment is not readily available in their home country. Treatment sought by medical tourists include dental procedures, cosmetic surgery, cardiac surgery, organ and cellular transplantation, ophthalmologic care, assisted reproductive technology, gender reassignment procedures and orthopaedic surgery.
Market Reports Online Medical Tourism Market Report: 2014 Edition found that patients travelling overseas can save up to 85 per cent on the procedure. According to the report, the top four medical tourism destinations in the world are Thailand, Singapore, India and Malaysia. All four of these destinations see a consistent increase in medical tourists each year.
India was recognised in the report as offering patients both the highest quality procedures as well as the lowest cost. Cardiovascular and orthopaedic procedures in India are offered for approximately 10 per cent of a similar surgery in the United States.
The Australian Government's SmartTraveller website states that while medical tourism is increasing, Australians need to be aware of low standards present in some countries that could result in serious or life-threatening complications.
Medical Tourism in Australia
Australia has a relatively small medical tourism industry compared to the global market, making up just 0.001 per cent of medical tourists in the world.
In 2011, a report on the medical tourism industry in Australia was commissioned by the Australian Government Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism. One of the findings revealed the Australian medical tourism industry faces a number of challenges due to its small and fragmented nature.
The report recommended that the medical tourism create a more strategic approach within the supply chain to overcome these issues through coordination and networking. It also concluded that as Australia could not compete on price, the competitive advantage of medical tourism in Australia was its reputation as a high-quality healthcare provider. This applies not just during the procedure but in the post-operative and recovery stage as well.
The report found that in 2010 that approximately 12,800 medical tourists came to Australia, which was only 0.23 per cent of the total visitors to Australia. However, the average annual growth rate of the medical tourism industry in Australia between 2005 and 2010 was estimated to be 14 per cent. The estimated average annual growth rate of all tourists to Australia was 2 per cent over the same period.
Based on the data collected in the 2011 report, it was estimated that on average a medical tourist spent $3,973 and stayed 14 nights in Australia. The main destinations for people seeking medical treatment in Australia were Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney and Tropical North Queensland.
Professor John Catford, executive director of medical services at Epworth Healthcare in Victoria, told Australia Network's Newsline that he sees approximately 600 international patients a year. Another facility in Victoria, the $1 billion Comprehensive Cancer Centre, is also looking to attract medical tourists.
Insurance for medical tourists
Potential markets identified as growth areas for medical tourists coming to Australia were the United States, the United Kingdom and New Zealand. New Caledonia and Papua New Guinea were Australia's two main source markets. Overseas visitors should be aware of the costs of medical insurance in Australia and what they will be covered for when they are here.
Australians travelling overseas for treatments also need to understand what their medical travel insurance does and does not cover. Last year, NIB announced its plans to enter the medical tourism market.