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Medical tourism raises questions that highlight the need for care and caution

Medical tourism: future boon or future bane for Australia’s consumers and health care system?

Medical tourism is being actively promoted in Australia in a way we have not seen previously. Health care is now a commodity that consumers can obtain locally and, increasingly, in foreign countries. Seeking medical treatment in other countries has been termed “medical tourism”, where treatment is combined with recreational experiences in resorts and hotels. Treatments may be for cosmetic procedures, chronic illnesses and assisted reproduction, including dental, cardiac, orthopaedic and bariatric surgery, organ and tissue transplantation, and in-vitro fertilisation.1 There are few reliable statistics on the size and scope of the medical tourism market, but reports value it in the hundreds of millions to billions of dollars for individual countries, and globally as an industry it is valued at over US$20 billion.2 In Australia, medical tourism is believed to be a growing dimension of health care, with both inward-bound and outward-bound consumers. However, there is a lack of hard evidence on medical tourism in countries within the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development,1 including Australia.

At face value, medical tourism presents as a positive avenue for sufficiently wealthy consumers to obtain health care without being…