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The changing motivations and incentives for medical travel

Globe showing different directions

Dr Constantine Constantinides from healthCare cybernetics puts forward a contrary view  on the future of medical travel. Economic recession does not provide a boost to medical tourism. In fact, we have seen the opposite happen. “Have to” medical travel has run its course…. In future, consumers will become medical travelers because they “want to” not because they “have to".

I need to reiterate that I am a strong believer in, and a champion of medical travel, as evidenced by my continued investment of time, effort and money in the health tourism sector in general. Nevertheless, I continue to disagree with some of the medical travel purists and their thesis.

This thesis predicts and forecasts the continued growth (“in leaps and bounds”) of the “have to” version of medical travel. “Have to” because of cost or maybe “waiting times”. The proponents of this thesis are betting (and hoping) that the local or nearby healthcare providers cannot get their act together to bring down costs and prices and increase their efficiency (to reduce waiting times).

I strongly believe they are “brain blind” and wrong.

And contrary to the predictions of quite a few, economic recession does not necessarily provide a boost to medical tourism. In fact, we have seen the opposite happen.

From “have to” to “want to”

“Have to” medical travel has run its course. My bet is that local (or nearby) providers have received and digested the message and are getting their act together (in order to stem the outflow of patients). At the same time, I am betting that health consumers will still do health-related travel but that this will be because they want to (as opposed to “have to”).

Prepare to usher in the era of “want to”.

Industry-driven versus market-driven

For far too long, the medical travel Industry has been arrogantly telling consumers what they need to do. Now it is the turn of the market to tell the industry what consumers want to do.

And the industry needs to listen.

Consumers clearly prefer to do things because they want to… not because they have to. And this applies to medical travel.

 “Travel for Health” versus “Travel also for Health”

…and “tourism” as a dirty word? 

My other “bet” is that more will be travelling “also for health” as opposed to “exclusively for health”… which is also one more reason that I prefer the term “tourism” to “travel”. Of course, for many of those in the medical profession, the word “tourism” is anathema and its use borders on heresy. They feel that the word trivialises a very serious (life and death) activity.

Even though I, too, am a member of the medical fraternity, my contention has been that many in the profession suffer from a complex of “self-importance”.

The leveling off of globality-induced travel for health

We have been attributing the growth of medical travel not only to “need” but also on globality which makes the movement of people and the sourcing of services abroad easier. My impression is that today, globality-driven “needs-based travel for health” may have peaked. But tourism which may include the consumption of health-related services has by no means peaked.

A change in the direction of flow of medical travel

Finally, I need to refer to the change in direction of flow with regards to medical travel). Whether it is as a result of the “West’s Revenge” or other reasons (the growing affluence amongst the Chinese and Russians, for example), we are now, undeniably, seeing more East to West flow. We are also seeing a rise in East to East activity (from one Asian country to another “better” Asian country).

And it is time for us to stop regarding countries purely as “destinations” or “sources”. Today, practically all are both!


Profile of Dr Constantine Constantinides

Constantine Constantinides

Dr Constantine Constantinides runs healthCare cybernetics, a “think and do tank” with a recognized competency in Health Tourism Integration and Development. His home base is on the island of Samos in Greece.

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Dear Dr. Constantinides

You raise very strong reasons to highlight the trend to package reasons for market trends or developments instead of, as you correctly point out, let the markets tell the industry what will be required to satisfy demand and need and understand the need to / want to reasoning of the potential clients.

You are absolutely correct in the opinion on many medical professions undervaluing the travel/tourist approach and value of healthcare in this perspective of spa sectors as motivation for lifestyle change and imporoved health care regimes of the individual.

In fact it is funny how the Greeks and Romans had adopted this approach many centuries ago, with considerable success in their times. As approach you rightly propse should be more considered and valued in the scope of international health of the individual and healthcare systems,

Would like to make contact for more discussion. We are based in London , email is -- eaicsmith@yahoo.co.uk---

If you can share your contacts l will get in touch

Thank you
Alan Smith
Senior Partner
EAIC and Associates

Alan Smith / EAIC and Associates EHG International Heal (19/03/2013 11:10:07)

Dr. Constantinides has, I believe, has identified some important motivations / inhibitions in the international medical travel markets which are fairly well understood, i.e., that regional cross border medical travel is a continuously shifting mix of perceived “need” v. “want” among consumers. By not considering certain market factors and segments, the article sweeps broadly without clarifying the issues about which Dr. Constantinides is quite expert.
First, both “need” (urgent, but not emergent) and the “want” (elective) are motivations which have been in operation for decades – neither is a new motivation. Research by Stackpole & Associates is reinforcing these mission-critical distinctions for our destination clients. Further, it is possible to create a structure or hierarchy of preference among destinations and the markets in their source destinations for both the urgent and elective segments.
These two market sub-segments – urgent & elective – distribute normally. In other words, there are wealthy and poor in each. The recession has had a demonstrable negative impact on healthcare demand in many markets, yet there is a lower level of economic sensitivity among these two segments.
The label “Medical Tourism” was attached to a market dynamic that was already occurring; in some ways, the sector is trying to catch up with the dynamics in the regional marketplaces. The facts of international medical travel are not new; creating a business model and infrastructure around it is. The label “Medical Tourism” was and is purposefully disruptive. (I don't like it either, but it appears we're stuck with it.)
Another point that Dr. Constantinides article looks past is the regional nature of the business of international medical travel. The markets are not global. While certain source locations are more globally oriented to travel than others, a very small percentage of the international medical consumer market travels across the globe to consume medical services.
According to market lifecycle theory, in only a few regional marketplaces has the market “crossed the chasm” to a mainstream business. In most regions, medical travel consumers are still only early adopters. The early hyperbolic projections of medical travel markets in the billions of USD assumed a seamless absorption and transition to mainstream, which has obviously not occurred. What we will have is a highly variable rate of absorption region to region, punctuated by rapid increases and decreases.
My hope is to benefit for Dr. Constantinides' more thoughtful analysis of these subjects.
Irving Stackpole

Irving Stackpole (02/02/2013 12:06:06)

Dear Mr Constantinides,

In its conclusions the OCDE report about Medical Tourism sees a potential to third party payers interest in competitive destinations. The report is full of argumentation about this. It would be interesting to see to which research conclusions are you basing your "bets". Specially for the state insurance systems. The "also for tourism" bet and the source-destination countries may win though.

Stella Tsartsara (02/02/2013 08:57:08)