This report describes medical tourism in the United Kingdom in 2015 and lists the most popular destinations and the medical procedures for patients seeking medical care abroad. A growing number UK residents indicate that they have traveled or plan to travel to a foreign country for medical treatment. Due to NHS waiting times and the increasing popularity of online cost comparison for medical treatments, more patients are expected to pursue medical treatment options abroad in the future. In this report, you'll learn:
- How many Britons traveled abroad for medical care in 2014
- Which medical procedures are most popular for UK medical travellers
- What destinations are most popular for medical tourists from the UK
- Dentistry is the most popular medical treatment category for UK patients seeking care abroad
- Eastern European countries, such as Poland and Hungary, are the most popular destinations for UK patients. Thailand is the most popular long-haul destination
- MEDIGO.com predict 200,000 UK patients will go abroad for medical treatment in 2015
What is medical travel?
Medical travel, also known as health or medical tourism, describes the practice of individual patients leaving their country of permanent residency to seek medical care abroad.
The medical treatment may be the primary motivation for travel or may be incidental to a planned trip. Destinations such as Thailand, Malaysia, Mexico, Turkey, Spain, Poland, and Hungary have established themselves as providers of high quality medical care by developing their international patient help desks and international hospital accreditations, such as the Joint Commission International (JCI), Temos, and various accreditations recognized by the International Society for Quality in Health Care (ISQua).
Who are MEDIGO?
MEDIGO is a platform dedicated to medical travelers, founded in the belief that patients should have as much information as possible when choosing a health care provider or deciding to undergo treatment. MEDIGO.com allows patients to search, compare and coordinate surgery from within 40 medical specialities at clinics and hospitals in more than 18 countries.
The platform lists price estimates of procedures in various hospitals, displays detailed physician and clinic profiles, and aggregates patient reviews of hospitals and doctors. MEDIGO perform quality checks to see if clinics have international accreditations, if their physicians are affiliated with medical boards, make enquiries with former patients and gather annual statistics on procedures performed along with success rates.
MEDIGO’s international Care Team facilitates the process of scheduling medical treatment abroad. The experienced team assists with personalized treatment plans and custom quotes, medical record translation, arranging accommodation and ground transportation.
MEDIGO’s unique position as a medium between patients and clinics allows for unique insights into the medical travel phenomenon. This report provides an overview of where, why, and how many British patients travel abroad for medical care.
UK patient motivations for medical travel
Patients from the United Kingdom seek medical care abroad for three primary reasons: waiting times, cost, and access to specialist care.
Access to Care and Waiting Times
Patients may be confronted with personal or institutional barriers to care which result in negative health outcomes. With respect to dental care, an estimated 44% of the UK population did not see a dentist within the past two years.
Regarding waiting times, the NHS Constitution gives patients the right to access services within a maximum time-frame. Despite these legislative efforts, the number of patients waiting for treatment is significant. National statistics released by the NHS show that in the last year, the waiting times for Referral to Treatment (RTT) for admitted patients was about 9 weeks, and the RTT waiting list was on average around 330,000 higher than the same months in 2013.
In the last year, nine specialties were below the NHS admitted waiting time standard:
- General Surgery, Urology, Trauma and Orthopedics, ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat), Ophthalmology, Oral Surgery, Neurosurgery, Plastic Surgery, and Cardiothoracic Surgery.
- The largest absolute numbers of patients waiting to start treatment were found in Trauma & Orthopaedics, Ophthalmology, ENT, and Gynaecology.
Cost of Treatment
Many medical procedures are covered by the NHS but are contingent upon diagnosis and treatment type. Dental implants, for instance, are only covered by the NHS when there is a demonstrated medical need. This includes patients who are unable to wear dentures or who have had jaw damage. Additionally, superior treatment options, such as particular brands of dental implants, must be paid for out of pocket by the patient.
Depending on the individual treatment plan, UK patients can save between 50% and 80% on treatment when they travel to a clinic or hospital located abroad. A representative sample of the difference in quoted prices at private clinics in the United Kingdom and at hospitals in other parts of the EU.
Estimated number of UK medical travelers
In March 2015, MEDIGO commissioned a survey which asked 1,000 UK residents aged 24 and older “Did you travel to a foreign country for medical care in 2014?” (Table 1 below). While a majority of those surveyed had not traveled abroad for medical care, nearly 1 in 10 reported that they know someone who had medical treatment abroad in 2014. The survey results are an indication of the growing acceptance of medical travel in the United Kingdom.
The younger the user, the more likely they were to have traveled abroad themselves for medical care or to know someone who did. For those aged 25-24, these two responses accounted for 22% of all responses. Those between 55 and 64 were least likely to have traveled abroad themselves or to know someone else who had (fewer than 10%). Gender, Geography, Urbanicity, and Income Level did not have any significant effect on the answers.
Based on the volume of inquiries for UK patients seeking treatment abroad, MEDIGO estimates that the total number of UK Patients going abroad will be 200,000 in 2015. This estimate is significantly larger than the 63,000 detailed in the most recent International Passenger Survey (IPS) conducted most recently in 2010.
Why is the IPS figure comparatively conservative? The IPS randomly surveys a representative sample of passengers entering and exiting the UK. The survey asks whether a medical treatment is the primary purpose of travel and thus reflects only a portion of UK residents who had medical treatment abroad.
- The survey does not take into account patients who view their trip as primarily for leisure, with a medical procedure forming a secondary element of the trip.
- The survey also does not take into account patients who decide to have a medical treatment while on holiday or during an extended period of traveling.
- The survey does not take into account patients who require a medical treatment as the result of an accident or incident while on holiday or traveling abroad.
Popular procedures for medical travelers from the United-Kingdom
MEDIGO currently lists more than 350 clinics and hospitals in 18 countries, which specialize in dentistry, ophthalmology, and plastic surgery, as well as complex care in neurology, cardiology, oncology, orthopedics, reproductive medicine, and urology. Medical travelers from the United Kingdom primarily seek treatment abroad for expensive procedures in dentistry and plastic surgery. Table 1 lists the most frequently inquired for procedures among MEDIGO inquirers residing in the UK in 2014.
Popular destinations for medical travelers from the United-Kingdom
The most popular destinations for patient inquiries were for clinics and hospitals in Poland, Hungary, Thailand, Turkey, and Spain.
Table 2 indicates the proportion of inquirers by destination along with the cheapest roundtrip flight for the period January 30, 2015 to February 2, 2015 as identified on January 14, 2015 by Google Flights UK.