Medical tourism, or the seeking of healthcare services outside of the United States, is growing by leaps and bounds. Thousands of Americans leave home each year to seek medical treatment abroad. The exact size of this market is difficult to quantify: countries that keep track of foreign patients often define this “medical tourism” very broadly—anything from joint replacement to a spa treatment.
Unsurprisingly, the main spur driving Americans to seek treatment abroad is lower costs. Healthcare spending in the United States increased tenfold from 1980 to 2010, from $256 million to $2.6 trillion, and out-of-pocket costs, even for insured individuals, have been creeping over the same period.
Thanks to its lower costs and proximity to the U.S., Mexico is a top destination for American medical tourists. Patients cross the border seeking dental care, prescription drugs, cosmetic procedures, and bariatric (weight-loss) surgeries that are not always covered by health insurance plans.
Rising Quality in Mexico
The second reason for medical tourism is the improvement in medical care outside of the United States. Mexico, like many other countries, is making significant public and private investment in healthcare infrastructure, such as building and equipping clinical facilities, training primary care providers, and seeking international accreditation. Internationally accredited institutions must meet strict standards of service, hygiene, and practitioner training. American patients can choose accredited facilities and expect a level of service comparable to what they would receive at home.
Rising Demand for Medical Tourism
According to “Why International Medical Tourism is Growing,” a 2013 article from D Magazine, the Mexican government expects the number of U.S. medical tourists to reach 650,000 by 2020, while Deloitte predicts a 35% annual rate of growth in the number of medical tourists worldwide. Mexican cities along the border and in traditional resort towns such as Guadalajara and Tijuana are building more healthcare facilities to American standards, sometimes in partnership with U.S. investors.