An international comparative case study of the health equity impacts of medical tourism in destination countries

Canadians take part in medical tourism when they travel to other countries with the intent of accessing private medical care. It has been speculated that medical tourism by patients from countries such as Canada is exacerbating health inequities in destination countries, and particularly in developing countries. However, there is a lack of evidence demonstrating that this is the case. There is also a lack of evidence to support claims that medical tourism is having a positive impact on destination countries by enhancing health-care infrastructure and bringing revenues into the public sector, among other potential benefits.

Dr. Valorie Crooks and her team are addressing this pressing knowledge gap by qualitatively examining the health equity impacts of medical tourism in six purposefully selected sites: Bridgetown, Barbados; Guatemala City, Guatemala; Monterrey, Mexico; Mexico City, Mexico; Chennai, India; and Bangalore, India. The results will be useful to Canadian health service providers and administrators, as medical tourism poses particular challenges to Canada. While the ethos of our health-care system rejects two-tiered care for essential services, the number of Canadian medical tourists paying out-of-pocket to go abroad is already considerable and steadily increasing. This research will allow for valuable insights to be gleaned early on in the “global conversation” about medical tourism, ultimately allowing Canadian patients to make informed choices and Canadian health-care providers and administrators to provide needed guidance to patients. The findings will also help Canadian health policy makers ensure that Canada’s normative and legal obligations to improve global health equity are being met, and that efforts to expand universal health-care and sustainable health system financing efforts in destination countries are not being undermined through the medical tourism industry and Canadians’ participation in it.