Greater agreement on the definition of medical tourism and its associated variables is necessary to assess its full economic impact accurately, according to a report of the October 2016 meeting of the Global Healthcare Policy and Management Forum (GHPMF), published in BMC Proceedings.

The GHPMF, held at Yonsei University in South Korea, discussed the regulation of medical tourism as well as challenges that currently exist in researching this practice.

According to presentations at the GHPMF, several government bodies have dedicated financial incentives to states as well as medical service providers for programs aimed at attracting international patients. One example included land grants, which are often provided to build or renovate hospitals. Fiscal incentives are also provided to hire top talent and leaders within the medical industry.

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Investigators at the GHPMF highlighted the importance of data analysis on the economic effects of medical tourism in each country, municipality, or region. Currently, few published data are available that describe medical tourism’s economic impact.

There is also a lack of widely acknowledged and accepted definitions of medical tourism, which represents a potential reason why pooled data on medical tourism remain limited. The investigators report that the lack of uniform definitions reduces the ability of investors to assess their return on investment, which may ultimately have an impact on future policy. 

According to the report, attendees of GHPMF believe that current data on medical tourism are insignificant in meaning and consider that these data “are oftentimes arrived at through organization-specific counting processes that render them very difficult to compare” while hindering an objective review “of the scale of and diversity within the industry.”

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The GHPMF attendees believe that future research should focus on the definitions of medical tourism, including who does and who does not count as a “medical tourist.” Additionally, future research should examine the knowledge gaps associated with tourism’s health equity impacts.

Investigators of this report on the GHPMF meeting believe that, because medical tourists generally stay in their treatment location longer and spend more than non-medical tourists, the prime focus of research “should instead be on calculating medical and nonmedical spending and resource use associated with different types of medical treatment, and that this information be accessible for broader study of the industry.”


Crooks VA, Ormond M, Jin KN. Reflections on ‘medical tourism’ from the 2016 Global Healthcare Policy and Management Forum. BMC Proc. 2017;11(Suppl 8):6.