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Future Health Care - medical Tourism - $40 billion a year industry, over 11 million people travelling to other nations for lower cost hospital treatments, dentistry or cosmetic surgery. Organ trafficking. Medical tourism will grow to $130bn by 2025.

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A major trend in future of health care is the boom in medical tourism. One way to reduce health costs for individuals, insurers or government is to move patients abroad for treatment, and we will see a lot more of this in a world beyond COVID.

‘Medical tourism’ is already a $40bn industry, growing 20% a year, with over 11 million people annually travelling to another country for private treatment, and possibly convalescence in a nice hotel.  The market could be worth over $130bn by 2025. 

* "Life with AI - How to survive and succeed in a super-smart world" - Patrick Dixon's latest book on AI is published in September 2024 by Profile Books.  It contains 38 chapters on the impact of AI across different industries, government and our wider world, including impact of AI on the future of of health care.

The savings in all types of medical tourism can be huge: private health care in Brazil is only 25% of the cost in America, India 73%, Mexico 50%, Thailand 65%, Turkey 60%. Within the EU itself there are also major cost differences – for example, dental treatment in Hungary is far cheaper than in Paris.

Governments are already signing contracts for future health care with private providers in other nations. Thousands of elderly people have moved to Eastern Europe and Asia for long-term care and rehabilitation. According to the German government, over 400,000 older people cannot afford a German retirement home – a cost that is growing by 5% a year, and 7000 are in retirement homes in Hungary alone.

As part of this, transplant tourism is also growing. Demand will be even greater in future from ageing, wealthy populations.

In America alone, 20 people die every day while waiting for a suitable or willing organ donor.

Families and patients are often desperate and many are willing to pay large amounts to fly to another nation to get a new organ. The black market rate in America can be over $150,000 for a kidney or liver,  Despite the legal ban, at least 2000 low-income people in India donate one of their own kidneys to medical tourists each year, mostly for a few hundred dollars. 

Life expectancy is similar with one or two kidneys, but many other organs cannot be removed without death of the donor immediately after, so organ trade can rapidly become a very macabre business.

Growing numbers of men and women are being kidnapped every month as part of the organ trafficking industry, and forced into operating theatres where surgeons are waiting to cut their organs out. 

Over 7000 kidneys are trafficked a year, just some of the 11,000 organs sold on the black market annually. There have been cases where a child has had both eyes removed (cornea transplant) before being abandoned onto the street. Unconfirmed reports suggest over 12,000 post-execution transplants may be taking place in China a year. Organ trafficking could already be worth $1 billion a year.

We are also seeing the migration of health professionals. Vietnamese doctors and nurses, trained at huge cost by their own nation, are working in Thailand. Filipino nurses are attracted to work in the UK. This is a very worrying and unsustainable situation for ‘donor’ countries that can ill-afford the escalating costs of losing the majority of those they train to wealthy nations.

Expect some kind of training tax in future, or binding contracts with those trained at government expense.

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