A few surprises were found in a major report being released this morning at the Health Care Globalization Summit in Las Vegas. The Wall Street Journal got an early copy.
Most interesting, from a Canadian perspective, is that more people become medical tourists to avoid long waiting lists for surgery at home than the number -- primarily Americans -- who do so to get cheaper care, according to the report.
About 15 per cent of all medical tourists are queue jumpers from primarily Canada and Britain, research firm McKinsey and Company found. Only nine per cent are Americans seeking cheaper care abroad. Until now, the general assuption had been that queue-jumping side of the business was smaller.
Maybe this is an indication of how upset people have become about waiting lists.
The biggest reasons patients cited for travelling abroad were better care and access to better technology. I have heard stories of limo rides to the hospital from the airport, doctors who hand out their cell numbers and luxury hospital rooms that look more like hotel accommodations -- so I can see where this comes from. I also spoke with an Indian hospital chief executive who told me about the orthopedic surgeons on his staff who have performed literally hundreds of hip and knee replacements -- far above the number that a doctor might perform here -- honing their skills. A big chunk of the industry is also made up of rich people in developing countries going to other developing countries for surgery.
The McKinsey report estimates the current size of the market at no more that 85,000 patients a year -- smaller than most of the anecdotal estimates out there, but the report uses a much narrower definition of medical tourism than is common in the industry. Other industry reports have pegged the number of medical tourists to Asia alone at 1.3 million a year.
But the potential, the report says, is huge -- about 10 times the current market. The growth, it says, will come mostly from Americans seeking cheaper care.