Medical Tourism Is Booming for One Startling Reason

Tampa, Florida, is a big hot spot, with patients desperate for treatment

How far would you travel to get a life-saving procedure — even an elective one?

There are a lot of reasons people decide their best chance at a healthy life means health care far from home. And increasingly, you’re making the trip.

The worldwide medical tourism market is expected to grow at a rate of 15-25 percent.

Medical tourism is a tremendous industry today: Some estimates put it as high as $45 billion to $72 billion worldwide. Patients look for everything from cosmetic surgery to dental work, fertility and cancer treatments — even health scans and second opinions. Nearly 80 percent of the demand for medical travel is driven by cost savings. Medical tourists spend between $7,475 and $15,833 per medical travel trip.

While various nations rank among the “most traveled to” in terms of health care, one apparent hot spot right now is Tampa, Florida. Patients from around the country and the world head there for what they hope will be lifesaving care for Lyme disease.

Marvin Diotte brought his daughter from Ontario, Canada, to get her help for Lyme disease that he said the family couldn’t get at home. The family plans to spend $150,000 out-of-pocket and stay as long as they possibly can, WFTS, the ABC affiliate in Tampa, reported.

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The family is one of dozens receiving treatment at Sponaugle Wellness Institute in Tampa. Dr. Rick Sponaugle estimates that 90 percent of his patients are from out-of-state, with 20 percent of his clientele traveling from Canada. Many live in hotels and local Airbnbs, staying the maximum time allowed by the government for temporary visits.

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While there are few good ways to treat Lyme disease — and not everyone might agree on the best course of treatment for those suffering from complications — Canadian Cecile Gough said she is disappointed at how the Canadian health care system has failed Lyme disease patients. The former oncology nurse is among those currently hooked up five days a week to a customized antibiotic IV at Sponaugle Wellness Institute — and says it’s working. Gough said she came in needing to walk with canes — and it’s rare she uses them anymore.

As the world population ages, people grow tired of waiting for what they feel are necessary resources. As out-of-pocket medical costs of critical and elective procedures continue to rise, patients are expected to increasingly pursue cross-border health care options to save money or to avoid long waits for treatment.

Related: Lyme Disease: Know Your Enemy

The worldwide medical tourism market is expected to grow at a rate of 15 to 25 percent, with inbound patient flows highest in Mexico, Southeast and South Asia, according to Patients Beyond Borders.

More than 600 hospitals and clinical departments around the world have now been awarded JCI (Joint Commission International) accreditation — which means an international hospital has met the same set of rigorous standards set forth in the U.S. by the Joint Commission. That number is growing by about 20 percent per year.

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