Some researchers distinguish between medical tourism and medical travel. Medical tourism is understood as travelling abroad for wellness, cosmetic or other non-essential procedures like cosmetic surgery, breast augmentation, hair transplant or cosmetic dentistry (e.g. dental implants). Medical travel means travelling to clinics abroad with the purpose of receiving medical treatment essential for maintaining the quality of life or health.
It is estimated that in 2014 about 1.25 million USA citizens travelled abroad to receive medical treatment. This number is growing. WHO estimates that medical travel will expand globally in the next decade. American citizens, for example, already travel abroad for treatment both for urgent or elective procedures. However, various news sources report that the growth does not appear to be even in all medical sectors.
According to Keith Pollard from IMTJ there is no such thing as exponential growth. The medical tourism market is highly complex. It is made up of a variety of niche markets: fertility treatments, dental implant treatments, cosmetic surgery or hair transplants for men. Some of these markets are definitely growing and in some, the numbers are falling.
Focusing on the fertility market, growth is clearly visible. Infertility treatments such as IVF or egg donation programs. Why do people travel for medical procedures like IVF or egg donation and pay for them out of pocket? The answer is straightforward: a growing trend in fertility travel comes from those countries where fertility treatments are not covered by public health services. One such country is the USA.
American fertility patients are more willing to take some time off, travel to Europe to have their IVF treatment than to have treatment locally. What are the reasons? The two main factors that have impact on patient decisions are cost of treatment and its quality/outcome.
American patients are interested in affordable egg donation programs with high success rates. IVF clinics in Europe offer egg donation programs with all eggs guaranteed for $6,000-$9,000 while American clinics may charge up to $25,000-$30,000 per cycle. The difference is huge. Even if patients take into account all expenses involved with travel and accommodation, travelling abroad seems more affordable.
The purpose of medical tourism for patients is to save as much as possible (sometimes it is even 50% of the treatment cost). The success rates of IVF and egg donation in Europe are among the highest in the world. They are monitored by platforms like EggDonationFriends.com where fertility patients can compare clinic success rates and offers free of charge.
More fertility patients from the USA (as well as Canadian patients) choose European countries as their IVF destination. Spain, Greece, Poland, the Czech Republic or Ukraine are especially popular; they are affordable and the quality of medical treatment offered matches American standards of patient care.
Many European fertility specialists are USA or UK trained which adds to the value of treatment. IVF and egg donation protocols are not the only reasons American fertility patients chose to travel to Europe. Infertile couples from the USA are drawn to European clinics because they offer unique treatments like entirely anonymous egg donors, surrogacy (Ukraine), egg donation programs for same sex couples and women 45+.
The trend will continue to rise if the American national healthcare services and private insurers do not recognize the need to offer more infertility treatment financial coverage. At the moment there seems to be no plan for the above, so the European IVF clinics are predicted to offer wider range of services and even more competitive prices in the future.