The trend of traveling abroad for affordable healthcare came to a screeching halt with the recent outbreak of Coronavirus. This phenomenon is called medical tourism, where thousands of medical travelers from the United States, Canada, and across the globe for less costly medical services.
How will the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic change the medical tourism industry? Here is what patients and providers need to know…
Thousands were recently forced to cancel trips due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report by Patients Beyond Borders.1 The patients who planned to go abroad to receive affordable medical and dental procedures are canceling or postponing their trips due to the Coronavirus outbreak.
The Spread of COVID-19
This spreading virus is quite literally putting the world at a standstill. Nearly everyone has felt the impact or even suffered, from the devastation caused by COVID-19. Coronavirus is contagious through the eyes, nose, and mouth. For every person who is infected, spreads to an average of eight people!
This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime event, unlike anything we have ever seen before. So when will the world start spinning again? More importantly, when will the medical tourism industry be back up and running and what can you expect from healthcare providers abroad because of this crisis?
Medical Tourism Statistics
Hundreds of thousands of individuals from all points around the world travel overseas to destinations like Mexico, Thailand, Costa Rica, Thailand, Israel, Turkey, and Iran to get healthcare services not available or affordable at home. It was estimated that about 1.4 million Americans were to cross the borders for healthcare in 2020.
These procedures range from weight loss surgery, dentistry, cosmetic and plastic surgery, orthopedics, cancer treatments, fertility care, stem cell therapy, and cardiovascular medical procedures. Tourists seeking medical services can generally save from 20% to 80% percent, especially with most savings inconveniently located in Tijuana, Mexico.
We estimate that the medical tourism industry is one of the hardest-hit industries. 90% of companies can’t operate because traveling abroad is uncertain and risky. Borders have closed to major countries and for some regions, travel is banned.
So now that we are beginning to beat the curve and more and more medical tourism providers open their doors again, how can you travel safely abroad with the threat of COVID-19?
Here are our suggestions!
As a measure to exercise caution and reduce risks the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends people practice good hygiene through;
- Washing hands with soap or water
- Using an alcohol-based sanitizer
- Routine cleaning of frequently touched surfaces, like cell phones.
There are no vaccinations in sight yet and the only remedy is social distancing, stay-home, and lock-downs. If you have a chronic medical condition and may have a higher risk of serious illness, check with your doctor about other ways to protect yourself.
Avoiding Coronavirus While Traveling Abroad
As we know, COVID-19 is an airborne virus, meaning that it spreads through touching a contaminated surface or object, contact with an infected individual, and close contact through the mouth, nose, or eyes.
First things first, if you are planning on traveling abroad in the near future, create an action plan and a backup plan.
- Check with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) for recent updates and advice.
- Look into local and statewide health advisories to both where you are coming from and where you are going.
- Create a direct travel plan to get to your destination with as little contact, delay, and interaction as possible.
- Check the number of confirmed cases and deaths in the specific regions you are traveling through. Make sure to stay out of major infected cities, airports, or known cluster zones.
- Now that you have done your research, create an alternative route in case of emergency, travel bans, or special circumstances. Plan carefully and know your options for a variety of transportation methods. Car rentals, bus rides, airports, uber, etc.
- Make sure you have enough money in care and you are forced to stay put for a few weeks. Coronavirus
- Think about “worst-case scenarios”, “what ifs”, or “emergency situations”. If one is likely, you should probably consider putting your travel on hold.
- Avoid people at all costs. Wear an n95 mask or scarf covering your mouth and nose.
If you’re planning to travel, first check the CDC and WHO websites for updates and advice. Also, look for any health advisories that may be in a place where you plan to travel. You may also want to talk with your doctor if you have health conditions that make you more susceptible to respiratory infections and complications.
The Future of Medical Tourism Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic
The medical tourism industry, like the travel industry, is hard-hit by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The countries around the world implemented measures like stay-home, social distancing, lock-downs, and travel restrictions to contain and flatten the virus curve.
It is reported that around 100,000 patients canceled their planned medical trips, mainly elective or non-urgent procedures, in March alone. There are estimated some 500,000 more cancellations to occur through the third quarter of 2020.
“Over 90% of bookings were canceled or rescheduled from the end of March to now,” Ron Elli, Ph.D., the CEO of Mexico Bariatric Center.
This may become new normal for some time unless a quick and conclusive test or better yet a vaccination and cure becomes readily available.
Will We Ever Return to “Normal”?
This could be a new normal… Times of disruption always lead to times of drastic, and in some cases, desperate change. Whether the COVID-19 global pandemic is a once-in-a-lifetime effort to shake the world to its core, or it’s an opportunity to rebuild our society again. It is certainly a wake-up call that we all have suffered from in one way or another.
Everyone is getting the chance to see what we have to be thankful for, and how quickly it can all be taken away.
So will domestic medical tourism flourish? As it appears more and more that obesity and its comorbidities like high blood pressure, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease are deadly during a virus epidemic such as Coronavirus 2019.