Patients on the Move

Author(s): M. M. Kingma1
Affiliation(s): 1International Council of Nurses, Geneva, Switzerland
Key messages:

1 – Globalisation is affecting the health sector - expanding the health services provider market as well as the health professional labour market.
2 – Health tourism tends to introduce or facilitate the growth of the private sector health industry. This may result in intranational tensions and competing vested interests.
3 – Health tourism needs to be monitored and evaluated in terms of population access to care, service stan- dards, and local labour conditions.

Summary (max 100 words):

The international migration of health professionals has increasingly been on the political agenda, especially in the context of widespread shortages of employed care providers. Globalisation is a reality and recognised characteristic of today’s world. Health systems are faced with the challenge of increasing demands on their services and a relative decrease in funding. Privatisation in the health sector is increasing, including in areas known as health tourism – patients seeking care outside their country of residence. Health facilities are being established providing medical and surgical interventions, as well as health promotion services (e.g. massage, relaxation therapy) essentially for foreign patients. While recognised as an income generating initiative in many cases, the introduction of health tourism may distort the public/private mix within the national economy, increase the intranational “migration” of health professionals from the public to the private sector, influence educational and practice standards, challenge professional regulatory bodies, place new demands on health insurance systems and create wide disparities among the pay and working conditions on offer locally. Health tourism may also help retain health professionals by providing better employment and professional development opportunities, improve working conditions, advance health care, harmonize standards of service delivery, and disseminate evidence-based practice.

Conclusion (max 400 words):

Health tourism is on the increase and predicted to be a growth industry in the years to come. Its introduction influences aspects far beyond health care, including the national economy, education, regulation, access to and quality of public sector services, insurance companies’ sustainability, the tourist industry and people’s expectations. Health tourism needs to be monitored and evaluated as a social phenomenon as well as studied in terms of impact on the accessibility and quality of care, patient outcomes, labour market and health personnel behaviours.

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