Although the terms Medical Tourism and Medical Travel are relatively new, the idea of traveling outside of your own country for medical / health reasons has existed for thousands of years. However, modern history dates back only 30-40 years.
As the cost of healthcare started to rise, a small portion of American patients began to travel south to Central America for minor treatments, like dental care.
In 1994 the Joint Commission International (JCI) was formed to regulate and standardize Medical Tourism facilities.
After the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997, governments acted to heavily promote tourism in the region and weakened currencies made the region even more attractive to foreigners. This included healthcare, where treatments and procedures were being offered at a fraction of the price compared to Western hospitals. Thailand quickly emerged as the go-to place for low-cost plastic surgery.
The reputation of Medical Tourism improves as more facilities across SE. Asia and Latin America achieve JCI accreditation. Thailand and Singapore lead the way.
By 2006, it was estimated that over 150,000 Americans traveled to Asia and Latin America for medical treatments.
As the medical facilities improve their services and offerings beyond cosmetic and dental procedures, an exponential rate of growth has been witnessed over the last 10 years. With hundreds of JCI accredited facilities across the world, the status of Medical Tourism continues to grow. As of 2018, it’s estimated that 14-16 million patients travel abroad for medical treatment, a number which grows year on year.