When Did Medical Tourism Begin?
You might be
surprised to know that medical tourism is not a new phenomenon. In fact, archaeological
evidence from the third millennium B.C. suggests that ancient Mesopotamians traveled
to the temple of a healing god or goddess at Tell Brak, Syria, in search of a cure
for eye disorders. A few thousand years later the Greeks and Romans would travel
by foot or ship to spas and cult centers all around the Mediterranean. The Asclepia
Temples, dedicated in honor of the Greek god of medicine, were some of the world’s
first health centers. Pilgrims would sometimes spend several nights in the temple,
hoping Asclepios would appear in a dream and suggest a diagnosis or treatment.
Later in the 16th and 17th centuries, spa towns such as St.
Moritz and Bath became prime destinations for the European upper classes looking
to soothe their ills. More recently, the wealthier citizens of underdeveloped nations
have begun traveling to renowned medical institutions in the United States or Europe,
usually for invasive medical procedures such as open heart surgery or cancer treatments
that require a high degree of specialization and experience.
Over the last fifteen years, however, the trend has reversed itself as increasing
numbers of patients have begun traveling from developed nations such as the United
States and Canada to so-called “underdeveloped” nations in search of affordable
medical care or treatment options not available at home. Most media attention has
focused – often in a negative light - on patients traveling for what are referred
to as “elective” procedures such as plastic surgery or dental. However, a growing
number of patients are traveling for more acute care procedures such as open heart
surgery, spinal procedures or hip and knee replacements.
In 2009, The Deloitte Center for Health Care Solutions, a U.S. based consulting
company, predicted a 35 percent increase in medical travel over the next several
years, including an expected 1.6 million Americans traveling for medical care in
2012. A rapidly aging U.S. population coupled with escalating healthcare costs and
the uncertainty of healthcare reform are expected to increase medical tourism’s
appeal even further.
"Archaeological evidence from the third millennium B.C. suggests that ancient Mesopotamians
traveled to the temple of a healing god or goddess at Tell Brak, Syria, in search
of a cure for eye disorders."
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