Pop culture, wealthy Chinese spur medical tourism in Asia

Tue Oct 4, 2011 5:53am EDT
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By Jeremy Laurence

SEOUL (Reuters) - It is one of Asia's fastest growing industries and shows no signs of losing steam even as the global economy wobbles.

Traveling abroad for medical treatment is now a multi-billion dollar business.

From a nip-and-tuck to a heart bypass, hospitals from India to Singapore and South Korea treat more than 1 million foreign patients a year -- lured by cut-price surgery, no waiting lists, cutting-edge technology, and highly trained doctors.

Industry experts predict medical tourism in Asia will grow at a rate of 15 to 20 percent a year, mainly due to the emergence of nouveaux riches in the region.

"Asian medical tourism ... seems to be increasing as affluence and mobility increase in Asia," said David Vequist, head of the Center for Medical Tourism Research at the University of the Incarnate Word in Texas.

"Consumer choice is a powerful force now in healthcare and is impacted by aging and increasingly heavier, sicker, and more needy populations in Asia."

Medscape News web site has forecast medical tourism in Asia could generate $4.4 billion by 2012.

The United States provides the most patients, as Americans travel abroad to avert the astronomical costs of having private treatment at home. Typically, Americans can save 40-50 percent.   Continued...

<p>A plastic surgeon (L) speaks to his patient who travelled from Australia to Seoul to get liposuction at the BK DongYang Plastic Surgery Clinic in Seoul October 4, 2011. REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won</p>