Dr. Neil Lunt of the University of York and colleagues at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Royal Holloway University and the University of Birmingham, challenge the idea that ever greater numbers of patients are prepared to travel across national borders to receive medical treatment.
"In the past decade or so, the global health policy literature and consultancy reports have been awash with speculations about patient mobility, with an emphasis on how ever greater numbers of patients are traveling across national jurisdictions to receive medical treatments," Lunt, the study's lead author, said in a statement.
"Yet authoritative data on numbers and flows of medical tourists between nations and continents is tremendously difficult to identify. What data does exist is generally provided by stakeholders with a vested interest rather than by independent research institutions. What is clear is that there exists no credible authoritative data at the global level, which is why we are urging caution to governments and other decision-makers who see medical tourism as a lucrative source of additional revenue."
The researchers described the three myths of medical tourism as: an ever increasing demand for medical tourism; enormous global market opportunities; and that national governments have a role to play in stimulating the medical tourism sector via high-tech investment such as magnetic resonance imaging machines.
Lunt and colleagues said these three widely held assumptions could not be backed up with hard evidence, but many are encouraged by interested parties such as healthcare providers, and brokers and facilitators who act as intermediaries between providers and patients.
The study, scheduled to be published in the journal Policy & Politics by Policy Press, found historical flows between different countries and cultural relations account for a great deal of the medical trade.
"The destinations of medical tourists are typically based on geo-political factors, such as colonialism and existing trade patterns," Dr. Daniel Horsfall of University of York said. "For example, you find that medical tourists from the Middle East typically go to Germany and the UK due to existing ties, while Hungary attracts medical tourists from Western Europe owing to its proximity."