I was very fortunate to have won 5 awards in a number of categories at this years North American Travel Writer’s Association.these all ran in the Winnipeg Free Press over the past year. This one on medical tourism won a bronze award as well.

I hope you enjoy it on this post as it appeared in the WFP.

Ron Pradinuk

Defined by Wikipedia, medical tourism or health tourism is the travel of people to another country for the purpose of obtaining medical treatment in that country.

A number of countries have exploited the high cost of health care in jurisdictions such as the United States by developing and promoting large-scale medical facilities aimed at attracting those from these regions in need of better-priced services.

This has become big business worldwide worth about $100 billion annually.

“Where should I go to address my own health care issues in this regard?” many Canadians have asked.

A medical tourism index was developed some time ago by the International Healthcare Research Centre in conjunction with the Medical Tourism Association.

Its objective was to create measurements of care, as much as could be possible, of the countries offering these services to foreigners, based on three key components along with more than 30 other indicators of quality care.

Primarily they evaluated facilities, service, and the care environments in the various countries they researched.

It will likely come as a surprise to many Canada was rated as the No. 1 medical-tourism destination worldwide.

The report stated Canada was the country that provided “the most suitable economical, secure, and cultural environments, along with an acceptable health care cost.”

Canada is already a destination for many Americans seeking care, and for specialty areas such as dentistry, Manitoba has long been a destination for residents from the nearby states of Minnesota and North Dakota.

If we are so good, why are Canadians also pursuing care in faraway places such as Dubai, which has been a leader in developing a complete economic strategy for this sector; or in Costa Rica, which has not only built progressive facilities but offers the added recovery benefits of an amazing winter sunspot destination?

Like the U.K., which was second on the index, Canadians are frustrated by the wait times. So they seek out faster solutions to their health issues in countries where they conclude it will be safe to do so.

Third and fourth on the index were Israel and Singapore.

A good friend from Winnipeg recently contracted what is commonly known as flesh-eating disease from one of the countries he visited on a recent holiday. He credits the superior professional care he received in Singapore for saving his life.

It was a personal observation, but everything he saw and experienced related to health care convinced him it was the country to go to for those who seek these services away from Canada.

A number of western countries such as France, Germany and Italy were in the Top 10 as well, but for less expensive services a number of other countries such as the Philippines are also rated highly.

With $100 billion at stake, it is not surprising many more countries are promoting themselves as medical-tourism destinations.

While many of the countries have joined the race to attract health care visitors, it is important those seeking services do significant amount of research to ensure the country they choose is truly certified to perform the services they require.

Countries such as Mexico, Costa Rica, and a few Latin American countries tend to specialize in cosmetic or bariatric surgery.

Developing specialty services has become a part of the marketing plan for many of the countries seeking to separate themselves from the competition.

Many countries will become a medical-tourism destination for a region, as opposed to the world.

South Africa, for example, has one of the best health-care systems in their region and attracts patients from the easily accessible nations nearby, such as Botswana, Zambia, and Tanzania.

Tied to this development of specialized health care is a sector of the industry that has come to be defined as circumvention tourism.

A service may be illegal in a home country, but fully available at a different destination where it flourishes, because of the numbers of people willing to seek these out at any cost.

Many are aware of countries that allow doctor-assisted suicides or cancer treatments that are banned for lack of test results at home.

Experimental fertility treatments and non-approved medicines are often sought out by the desperate ones hoping for a miracle.

The most popular of services in the circumvention-tourism sector are for those seeking abortions.

Many countries such as Ireland and Poland have had restrictive abortion laws for a long time. Nearby European countries were initially the main beneficiaries for these services, but around the world this side of tourism has been flourishing as well.

With Canada rated so highly on these reported quality studies, many have suggested that Canadian provinces, who essentially control health care services here, should be working towards becoming the “Mayo Clinics of the North.”

There have been a number of proposals and studies done to evaluate the potential for individual provinces move in that direction.

So far, there has been a reluctance to take the next step. It would constitute a major change in public policy, and many fear it would change the dynamic of our health care from what it is today, to a for-profit system.

Significantly more investment would be required to insure our own wait times and demands for expanded services at home were improved before such a direction is likely to be taken.

In the meantime many Manitobans and Canadians will continue to seek health care abroad, for the health services they want faster, or more specialized.