Types of Medical Tourists and Where They Go

Medical tourism, also known as health tourism, surgical tourism or medical travel, is when an individual, couple or group travels abroad with the intention of seeking medical care. People who travel abroad for medical purposes are classified as medical tourists and they are usually motivated by a myriad of factors including, affordability, lack of treatments in their country of origin and better insurance coverage for medical treatment abroad.

Medical tourists can be further classified into different categories depending on their circumstance, motivation to travel abroad for medical purposes and the type of medical treatment being sought.

Medical Tourism

Proper Medical Tourist

Proper medical tourists travel to another country with the sole purpose of seeking medical treatment to due to reasons such as lower costs, lack of insurance coverage, and availability of treatments abroad. Proper medical tourists view the vacationing aspect of traveling abroad to another country as a secondary motivational factor.

Medicated Tourists

Unofficially classified as accidental medical tourists, these individuals end up seeking medical treatment abroad due to unexpected circumstances such as accidents or the sudden onset of a medical issue or illness. Medicated tourists end up extending their stay abroad because they are not well enough to travel home and their medical issues or illnesses are usually attributed to the exotic climates and unfamiliar foods.

Mere Patients

A mere patient is a type of medical tourist that travels abroad for the purpose of medical treatment only. These medical tourists are usually on a time constraint or restricted by a limited budget, and so do not partake in any vacationing activities such as sightseeing while they are abroad. Medical tourists who undergo intense surgeries such as bariatric surgery, cardiothoracic surgery or neurosurgery are restricted by their recovery and thus are also mere patients as they are not permitted to travel or partake in any strenuous activities. 

Medical Tourism - Patients

Vacationing Patient

This is the main type of medical tourist that saturates the medical tourism industry. Vacationing patients are the individuals who travels abroad to seek medical treatment but also take advantage of being in a new country to partake in a variety of tourist activities such as sightseeing, shopping and other activities approved by their doctors.

Medical Evacuation Patients

Medical evacuation patients are individuals who are relocated for medical purposes due to accidents, civil war, outbreak of disease or political reasons. Soldiers transported out of battle due to injury are an example of medical evacuation patients.

Medical tourism destinations are dependent on the medical tourist and what kind of treatment they seek, but over the years, certain countries in Europe and Asia have emerged in the medical tourism industry for specializing in certain medical fields.

In Europe, particularly Central and Eastern Europe, medical tourism has blossomed and boomed over the years due in part to a European Union directive that allows for patients to cross borders to seek medical care. Central and Eastern Europe are also huge draws for medical tourists because of the picturesque landscapes and historic cities with fairytale-like architecture. In particular, these following European countries have earned a reputation for high-quality medical care in the following medical fields or specializations:

  • The Czech Republic has garnered a reputation for top-notch cataract surgery and cosmetic surgery
  • Poland and Hungary attract individuals seeking high-quality dental care
  • Germany has become a hotspot for UK citizens seeking orthopedic surgery at cost-effective rates
  • Turkey has become a popular medical tourist destination for patients seeking cardiac, cancer and orthopedic care; and the Turkish government has supported this industry by promoting discounts for medical tourists who fly on Turkish Airlines.
Medical Tourism - Invest in your health

Asia is a destination where the medical tourism industry thrives due to its reputation for specialized medical expertise and lower waiting times for treatment. Governments of certain Asian countries also make it a point to market their medical expertise, high-quality hospitals and availability of treatments by setting up international service departments whose sole goal is to assist overseas patients with everything from booking appointments to finding accommodation. Some population Asian destinations for medical tourists include:

  • Singapore, which has developed a reputation for offering high-quality diagnoses, oncology services, organ transplant, and stem cell and regenerative therapies
  • Malaysia, which is a huge draw for fertility tourists seeking IVF treatments; medical tourists seeking executive health screenings; and medical tourists seeking treatments for skin conditions such as third degree burns
  • Taiwan, where medical tourists venture to seek cancer treatments, cosmetic procedures and weight loss procedures
  • China, which offers medical tourists a combination of high-tech, high-quality hospitals with contemporary approaches to medicine as well as traditional methods of medical treatment
  • India, which has a world-renown reputation for cardiovascular treatments, orthopedic procedures and cancer diagnoses. India has also attracted medical tourists from certain countries where the Indian government allows for them to stay in the country for thirty days or even up to a year depending on the medical treatment they seek.

In conclusion, individuals who seek medical treatment abroad are known as medical tourists and these individuals can be further categorized into different types of medical tourists, depending on their needs and circumstance. Their medical destination is dependent on the type of medical treatment they seek but there are key destinations in both Europe and Asia that have emerged in the medical tourism industry as specializing in certain medical practices and treatments, and/or because there are fewer visa limitations on how long they can stay for medical purposes.