There’s a new player in town, and there’s no doubt many travel services will welcome it with open arms.
OK, medical tourism wasn’t born yesterday — insiders estimate there are thousands of companies doing this around the globe, many of them mom-and-pop operations — but pretty darn close. More importantly, it’s growing up quickly, with Formosa Medical Travel predicting a 14 percent growth in Asian markets alone from 2009 – 2012. In a year when any growth at all elicits applause, that’s a dazzling future. What’s more, Formosa says high-cost surgeries like orthopedic, cardiac, and cosmetic top the list of drivers for medical tourism.
So American-owned Formosa has quietly built a travel niche from this trend, signing agreements with leading hospitals in Taiwan, and recently earning the backing of the Taiwan External Trade Development Council. Taiwan’s health care system is currently considered one of the most efficient in the world, with administrative costs below 2 percent.
“While the debate over health care reform in the United States continues, the costs of medical care in Taiwan remain among the lowest in the world,” said Don Gilliland, Formosa’s chief operating officer, in a November 30 press release. For example, the price of total knee replacement surgery at a JCI-accredited hospital in Taiwan, including all surgical costs, VIP accommodations, concierge service, transportation, and round-trip airfare, is generally less than $15,000, while the price in the United States is often upwards of $60,000.
At the moment, Formosa specializes only in arrangements for knee and hip replacement surgeries. And, sticking to the traditional travel agency format, it does not charge a fee for its role in the planning.
Meanwhile, the Medical Tourism Association is busy certifying members with similar services — think Healthbase, Surgical Trip and WorldMed Assist — in an effort to shed light on the quality services such businesses can provide.
The real question for the travel industry is how to get in on this compatible profession before insurance agents seize the bigger slice of the economic pie. My suggestion: the larger travel agencies need to quickly open a division and recruit former medical employees to join as their staff. They already have the skills to book airlines, hotels and transportation. But it will take a different expertise to jump into choosing hospitals and surgeons.
Photography: Kazuaki.h (courtesy of Flickr)