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Medical Travel—A Critical Assessment

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This article critically assesses some of the principal claims made regarding the scope, direction, composition, structure, significance and social consequences of medical tourism, epitomized in the prevailing “master narrative,” which perceives the emergence of new medical hubs in the non-Western world primarily from the perspective of its significance for the crisis-ridden Western medical systems. “Medical travel” is suggested as a more adequate term to conceptualize the phenomenon than “medical tourism.” While recognizing that a reversal in the direction of medical travel has taken place, with growing numbers of Westerners travelling for treatment to non-Western medical hubs, the article stresses the often over-looked predominance of intra-regional medical travel within the non-Western world, as a leading factor in the formation of the new medical hubs. It claims that Western medical travellers to those hubs seek primarily cosmetic and other elective treatments, which have only a marginal impact upon the crisis in Western medical systems. The often problematic consequences of medical travel for the host countries are pointed out. The constraints on the integration of medical travel into Western medical systems, and on the emergence of global medical travel governance are discussed, and the prospects for the growth of medical travel are assessed.

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