New figures reveal that more and more people obtaining visas from the Australia immigration department are arriving in the country for medical treatments. In 2013 alone, 10,000 tourists flew to Australia for medical tourism, contributing over A$26 million to the economy. This recent trend and the huge potential revenue that it entails for the Australian government have led to increased interest in medical tourism across the country.
The State of Medical Tourism in Australia
In the recent past, it has been usual for Australians to travel to Asian countries like Singapore and Thailand for cheaper medical care than was available domestically. The surprising discovery from statements by hospital chiefs and medical doctors in Australia, however, is that there is growing traffic in the opposite direction. A growing number of tourists from the Asia-Pacific region are seeking medical services such as in-vitro fertilization (IVF), cancer treatment, heart surgery, and orthopedic surgery in Australia.
According to Tourism Research Australia, the number of people arriving in the country for medical tourism has doubled since 2006 to 10,739 in 2013. While there is no certain way of knowing everyone’s reasons for coming to Australia, the figures are based on surveys conducted at airports. Survey sample groups typically include 40,000 people each year. The surveys have revealed that medical tourists spent a total of A$12.7 million in 2006 (not counting airfares and pre-booked packages) while the total spending in 2013 up to September was A$26 million.
The Possible Reasons for the New Trends
Tourists from Indonesia and China seem to form the bulk of medical tourists to the country. According to economists, the trends may be a result of increasing wealth in these countries, coupled with a belief that Australia offers higher quality medical care than their domestic providers. A large number of these medical tourists seek treatments in niche areas like robotic surgery and weight-loss surgery. As many as 50 medical tourists every year pay for treatments at Monash IVF, where procedures are 20% cheaper than they are in the US. Also, according to Epworth Group, 600 patients a year from countries like Indonesia, New Zealand, and Singapore seek treatments at their medical facilities. Some fall sick while on holiday in the country, while others seek specific specialist care they have heard about.
The Future of Medical Tourism in Australia
Australia’s state and territory governments have already been formulating strategies to capitalize on medical tourism. In Victoria, for instance, the Parkville Precinct in Melbourne and its new cancer center are expected to deliver high quality care when the center opens its doors in 2015. The Victorian Government also published a 2010 report recommending the setup of assistance centers in Indonesia to provide more information for locals wishing to travel to Australia for treatments.
There is some concern among the domestic medical community that despite the high potential for medical tourism, targeting international medical tourists may introduce antibiotic-resistant bacteria into domestic hospitals. Nevertheless, the global medical tourism industry is currently worth A$45 billion a year. It remains to be seen how government officials in Canberra and migration agents in Sydney will make the climate favorable for a foray into this industry while ensuring the safety of domestic patients.