Medical tourism industry under microscopeThe old St Joseph Hosital in St Peter.
By Tony Best | Wed, April 25, 2012 - 12:00 AM
Barbados’ emerging health-tourism industry may soon come under close foreign scrutiny.
That’s going to happen when some Canadian researchers study the facilities and quality of service being provided to patients from some of the world’s richest nations when they turn to Barbados for health care services.
But Barbados isn’t the only one under an academic microscope. Canada’s Simon Fraser University, which established a Medical Tourism Research Group four years ago, is sending some health professors and other researchers to Mongolia, India and Guatemala during the next year to study what the countries are offering foreign patients, the risks involved and how the growing sector is affecting local health care services.
Barbados’ emergence caught the eye of Canadians in general and health professors and researchers in particular when a group of American investors decided to transform the St Joseph Hospital in St Peter into a modern facility designed to serve foreign and local patients.
In addition, a fertility centre in Barbados is successfully attracting couples from Britain and North America, and an American offshore medical university recently opened its classrooms to foreign students shortly after the University of the West Indies’ Cave Hill Campus launched its own medical school with an eye on Caribbean and foreign students. The medical tourism industry in Barbados is attracting increasing attention abroad and that high visibility has raised questions about risks, services and challenges.
“Patients from more economically developed countries are flocking to developing countries to receive treatment for everything from elective cosmetic procedures to complex surgeries such as organ transplants and reproductive treatment, controversial stem-cell procedures and multiple sclerosis liberty treatment,” Simon Fraser University said on its website.
Lack of academic research
“The medical tourism industry is booming.
But there is a surprising lack of academic research into the industry size, the ethics and risks of medical tourism, and the effects it can have on developing countries and local health services.”
As examples of what has stirred its interest in what are being called “patients without borders”, the University cited the case of Barbados which is being used by American investors to recruit “United States and Canadian physicians to buy time-share style membership in a renovated hospital and bring their patients there for surgery”.
Then there is Chennai, India, which was attracting “Canadians in surprising numbers” seeking orthopaedic surgery in order to bypass wait lines at home and procedures not readily available in Canada, such as hip resurfacing, SFU stated.
“We found that many Canadians are relying on informal testimonies and anecdotal information from the Internet to make important decisions for surgical care,” said Dr Valorie Crooks, an SFU associate professor of health geography.
“I think people would be surprised to know that people are choosing to go abroad for medical care more often than you would think,” added Professor Crooks.
“There’s a lot of public discussion of wait times as the reason people go abroad for surgery, but from our research we know the things prompting Canadians to go abroad are much more diverse.
”Simon Fraser University’s studies in Barbados and other countries are being financed by a CAN$520 000 (BDS$1.02 million) grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health.
“There’s a lot of speculation that medical tourism is great for locals because it brings in money and jobs,” said Crooks, “But on the other hand, it shifts the focus to high-end surgeries and facilities for treating international patients. There is very little evidence one way or another to prove these two theories.”
Hence the need for the studies.
SFU, which is based in Vancouver, British Columbia, has about 30 000 students, 100 000 alumni and almost 3 000 faculty and staff. It’s often described as a “student-centred”, research-driven, community engaged” tertiary level educational institution that engages the world.
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