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Waiting area inside the traditional Chinese medicine section of Tung Shin Hospital in Kuala Lumpur (Simon Roughneen)
Waiting area inside the traditional Chinese medicine section of Tung Shin Hospital in Kuala Lumpur (Simon Roughneen)

While medical tourism is bouncing back after pandemic lockdowns and border closures, a combination of inflation and recession could impede the sector’s growth.

That’s according to financial researchers at BMI, who warned patients could opt for local care if travel costs don’t add up.#

“Economic slowdowns and high inflation” are prompting patients to “reconsider travelling abroad for non-urgent medical care,” according to BMI, a Fitch Solutions company.

While medical holiday destinations such as India, Malaysia, Mexico, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have seen “continued recovery” after disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the rebound could lose some bounce, the analysts said in a September report.

Governments in medical tourism destinations have offered incentives such as visas to facilitate multiple trips and have upped spending on health care to improve the range and quality of treatments.

But with flight and hotel costs up on the pre-2020 period and consumers facing having to spend more on necessities like food, fuel and electricity, would-be patients have to weigh up the likely pricier doctor and hospital costs at home versus what they can get in the medical tourism hubs.

“Medical tourists will continue to seek care in nearby countries that offer more affordable healthcare and higher-quality healthcare services,” BMI said, meaning the sector is likely to grow based on short-haul or budget flight trips, such as from the US, where health care can be prohibitively expensive, to Mexico.

India’s medical tourism industry depends on patients from Bangladesh, while the UAE caters to guests from nearby oil-rich states. Malaysia offers cheaper care for patients travelling up by road from wealthy Singapore, though it is also popular with visitors from the Middle East.

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