Australians are heading overseas in increasing numbers, according to CQ University
economist Anita Medhekar. She believes Australia’s high costs of medical procedures and insurance along with long waiting lists in the public health sector are causing people to look abroad for solutions to their health problems. So many middle class Australians are heading to India and Thailand for surgery, “Medical tourism is international economics in action. It is an economic activity that involves trade in services from two distinct sectors of the economy: medicine and tourism. While worth a lot of money to destination countries, it also means savings for people in Australia seeking affordable medical procedures without having to wait.”
Medhekar says top hospitals in Thailand and India are offering surgery and medical treatment at between a third and a tenth of the costs charged in Australia, “Internationally approved hospitals in India and Thailand match some of the best medical facilities in the world, and their staff are second to none. Many of the doctors employed at these facilities are trained in western countries and are all English speaking. In some cases, what we are seeing is high rise, state-of-the-art hospitals combining with five-star accommodation. The first few floors are for diagnosis, surgery and medical suites, and the remainder is similar to any top-end resort.”
The Thai government wants to boost medical tourism revenues to US$3.3billion by 2015, and Australia is seen as a key target market. Japan, the US and countries in South Asia are identified as other main source markets, supplemented by arrivals from China, Taiwan, the UK, Germany and the Middle East. The government claims that Thailand receives 1.5 million medical tourists a year, and that number is rising, but many analysts believe these figures are exaggerated by being based on the number of hospital “interactions” rather than the number of individual medical tourists.
Phuket has seven hospitals and its popularity with Australian medical tourists has prompted a war of words between local and Australian medical professionals. Professor Lindsay Grayson of Perth's Austin Hospital, said many Australians had returned from overseas surgery ''extremely ill because they received poor care and picked up foreign superbugs - organisms resistant to antibiotics.'' Peter Collignon, of Australian National University, said the threat from NDM-1 was so great that Australian hospitals should be made to isolate returning medical tourists until they know they are not carrying superbugs that could contaminate hospitals, “These people are risking bringing superbugs into our hospitals and that increases the risks for everyone else.”
Phuket International Hospital
and other Phuket hospitals are attracting more patients from Australia, especially for cosmetic surgery. Peter Davison of Phuket International Hospital responds that Australian doctors will use any issue to attack medical tourism to India and Thailand, ''Anyone who has had any form of surgery or invasive procedure in an Indian hospital could be a carrier of the new superbug and take it into Australia. The quarantine factor could be applied to 'every tourist from any nationality who has been to an Indian hospital because of an accident, as well as every Indian national who has also had recent surgery. It seems to me that anyone who has had any form of surgery or invasive procedure in an Indian hospital could be a carrier of the new superbug and take it into Australia. That is a lot of people to identify and isolate, and the majority are not medical tourists at all.''
Australian medical tourism agency Global Health Travel
flies 40 Australian patients a month to India, Thailand and South Korea. Gender-selection IVF procedures are booming in Thailand because of a ban - for non-medical reasons - in Australia. Knee and hip replacements are increasingly popular among those not willing to wait six to 12 months for the procedures in the Australian public hospital system.