A Timeline of Medical Tourism Through the Ages
- 21 July 2016
The Medical Tourism Association defines medical tourism as the process in which a patient travels to another destination for medical or health and wellness services.
It is easy to dismiss medical tourism as something novel, given the fact that traveling has only become mainstream in the last few years.
But in reality, the roots of medical tourism can be traced back to thousands of years ago, as far back as the time of ancient civilization. Indeed, you can say that the concept of medical tourism is as old as medicine itself.
Let’s take a mental walk along memory lane and discover how medical tourism has evolved through the years.
Ancient civilizations have always regarded mineral thermal springs and sacred temple baths as therapeutic, with people embarking on pilgrimages to reach these waters. The earliest documented instance was way back in 4000 BC when the Sumerians created the earliest known health complexes built around hot springs. Ancient Mesopotamians also traveled to the temple of the healing god in Syria in search of a cure for eye disorders.
During the Bronze Age in 2000 BC, hill tribes in present-day Switzerland recognized the health benefits of drinking and bathing in iron-rich mineral springs. The same bronze drinking cups found here were also found in thermal springs in France and Germany, suggesting that health pilgrimages occurred within these cultures.
But it was the Ancient Greeks that first laid the foundations of medical tourism, with the construction of the Asclepia Temples, which eventually became known as the world’s first health centers. People from far-off places traveled to these temples to seek treatment. Rome also had its own version that was popular among the elite.
India also had its own version of medical tourism as early as 5000 years ago, with medical travelers and spiritual students flocking to the country to seek the benefits of alternative healing methods like yoga and Ayurvedic medicine.
During the Middle Ages, Asia became one of the prime destinations for healthcare travelers. However, temples have given way to hospitals that provide clinical services to those who are seeking healthcare rather than spiritual care.
For instance, medieval Japan became popular because of the proliferation of hot springs that were said to have healing properties. Warrior clans used these springs to alleviate pain, heal wounds, and recover from their battles.
Islamic countries also established healthcare systems that also catered to foreigners. In 1248 AD, the Mansuri Hospital was built in Cairo and became the largest and most advanced hospital in the world at that time. With its capacity of 8,000, the Mansuri Hospital became a notable healthcare destination for foreigners of all races and religions.
The Renaissance period was not only instrumental for the flourishing of art and culture in Europe, but also an important period in the history of medical tourism.
In 1326, a village known as Ville d’Eaux or Town of Waters became famous throughout Europe due to its iron-rich hot springs. This was the birthplace of the word “spa,” which stood for the Roman terms, “salude per aqua,” which means health through waters.
Aside from Ville d’Eaux, other spas also gained popularity, especially during the 16th century. The rich and elite frequented tourist towns with spas like St. Mortiz, Baden Baden, Aachen, and Bath in England. In fact, Bath has become famous throughout the world, often documented in literature from that time.
It was also during the Renaissance period that Michel Eyquem de Montagne, the French inventor of the essay, first wrote a spa guide that became an important document in medical tourism history.
Bath’s popularity extended well into the post-Renaissance period. In fact, it became the first city in England in the 1720s to receive a covered sewage system. Because it is a prime medical tourism destination, Bath also received a lot of technological, financial and social benefits just like England’s capital, London.
It was also during this time that the New World was discovered, opening up new destinations for European medical tourists. Native Americans, who were adept in the healing arts, were visited by English and Dutch colonists as their skills can rival those found in Europe, Asia, and Africa.
Well into the 18th and 19th century, Europeans and Americans continued to travel to remote areas where spas and health retreats are located, hoping to cure various ailments.
Since the 1900s, the United States and Europe had become the centers of the healthcare world, with people traveling to these places in order to receive high-end medical treatment. But due to the high cost of medical care in these places, only the rich and affluent could afford medical tourism.
With the New Age movement gaining ground in the 1960s, India became a destination of choice especially for those in the flower child movement. It eventually developed into a full-fledged medical tourism industry as both yoga and Ayurvedic medicine were rediscovered.
The rising costs of healthcare finally took its toll on Americans during the 1980s and 1990s, so they started considering offshore options. Cuba became a destination for eye surgeries, heart operations, and cosmetic procedures. Thailand also became a center for plastic surgery in the late 1990s, with fees charged at a fraction of the cost that Western countries offer.
In 1997, the Joint Commission International (JCI) was founded to make sure that international healthcare facilities conform to international standards as medical tourism continue to rise in popularity.
Today, Asia and Latin America have become the top medical tourism destinations, especially those who are seeking dental and cosmetic surgeries. As many as 150,000 US citizens traveled to these place in 2006 to seek medical help, increasing to 300,000 by 2007. Thailand, Singapore, and India have been accredited by the JCI, making them legitimate medical tourism destinations.
In the last few years, more and more healthcare and insurance companies in the US are considering medical outsourcing, giving their members the chance to get surgeries done in other countries.
Thanks to medical tourism, you also have the option of getting elective cosmetic surgery wherever you want in the world, provided you have the means and resources to travel. But you do not really have to leave the United States just to get treated, as many states also offer options for medical tourism.
Florida is one of the most notable medical tourism states, with people flocking to Miami to have cosmetic procedures done. If you are one of those people contemplating on getting plastic surgery in Miami, you may Schedule a Free Consultation with one of our board-certified and experienced surgeons here on Face + Body Cosmetic Surgery to discuss your medical tourism concerns.