The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is the development guardian of a sustainable Tourism Ecosystem. However, yet Medical Tourism does not have that advantage of a global organization fostering its bionetwork.
Awareness of the importance of being sustainable helps to identify where we stand and how can we create mitigation plans for adverse situations. Actions should be based on a vision to establish a mission. A global organization must adopt the development of a Medical Tourism Ecosystem as task that would be more formidable of an undertaking than general tourism.
Medical tourism has the client as its center point and the following must be considered for every medical tourist:
- Medical Tourism destinations whether they are centers scattered in the fabric of a city like the absolute majority of health tourism centers or towns built around clinics and medical facilities like Mayo Clinic and Geisinger Hospital.
- Accessibility to care in which urban planning plays a major role.
- Unique amenities and services provided by these facilities and what they excel at. As an example expert surgeons and physicians, unique treatment protocols or expertise in certain procedures would give these centers the edge above the rest.
- Ancillaries that largely entail general touristic attractions and activities for the health traveler and their household.
- Community development and outreach plays the most important role in maintaining the Medical Tourism location. It influences all aspects of community involvement in supporting that particular medical tourism destination.
Three categories of impacts of medical tourism at the destination level can be clustered:
Environmental impacts: Medical tourism does not only make use of medical and healthcare resources but natural resources too. Unplanned and indiscriminate use can lead to depletion of these natural assets.
Social impacts: Medical tourism allows access to enhanced health services at affordable prices. It has a positive role at the community level resulting in cultural enrichment of its community, job creation and elevated quality of life. The afore mentioned positive impact overshadows the occasionally perceived negative notion that medical tourists have greater availability to services and are treated differently.
Economic impacts: Economic impacts of health tourism are the most felt at the destination level due to the multiplier effect meaning what is spent by the medical traveler and their families on general tourism activities from dining, lodging and sightseeing to paying for transportation, entertainment and shopping. This expenditures in many cases exceeds healthcare expenditure.
Moreover, medical tourism stakeholders must take into account the principles of environmental, economic and social sustainability.
- Environmental sustainability: Refining the use of environmental resources and helping to conserve natural resources and biodiversity. It would be wise to include some leisure activities for medical tourist to preserve and contribute to these natural resources, especially in destinations where nature and cultural tourism is prevalent.
- Social sustainability: Venerating the socio-cultural authenticity of host communities ensuring the preservation of cultural chattels and traditional community values.
- Economic sustainability: Promoting and ensuring an endured economic gain in which socio-economic benefits are equally distributed among all benefactors generating stable employment opportunities and contributing to elevating economic standards.
The application of these principles to medical tourism is imperative to enhancing the quality of life of significant population worldwide, enabling environmental conservation, poverty paucity and socio-economic development of the region.
Written by Dr Sherif Hassan, MD, International Healthcare Consultant, Washington DC and HTI representative in USA