More than 1 million Americans are expected to travel outside the U.S. for medical care in 2014, according to Patients Beyond Borders, a resource and  publisher on medical tourism. Globally, approximately 11 million patients go abroad for medical treatment.

Traditionally those visits would have involved elective procedures, such as cosmetic surgery. However, a growing trend in medical tourism is seeing more patients traveling far away from their homes to receive tertiary care, focusing on such areas as cardiovascular, orthopedics, weight loss, and more.

Daniel Polachek, vice president/design principal, HGA Architects and Engineers (Minneapolis), says the rising trend is a combination of better value in terms of the money patients invest in a procedure and a faster turnaround time than what they can get locally.

“With the time it takes to schedule, have a procedure, and recover, it’s often quicker to travel to another destination and have it done than to wait to get it scheduled at your local destination,” he says.

People are also beginning to feel that they can get as good or better care delivered to them for less money than they can get locally, whether they live in the U.S. or other parts of the globe, he adds.

Part of that relates to the fact that facilities are recruiting physicians from well-known medical schools and entities around the globe, says Christine Guzzo Vickery, vice president and senior interior healthcare designer, HGA Architects and Engineers.

Another evolution in medical tourism is the target patient. No longer available to just the affluent or well-insured, today’s medical tourist represents a broad range of patients with a variety of needs.

Health City Cayman Islands, a 40-bed tertiary facility aimed at drawing Americans to the island for cardiovascular and orthopedic health, recently opened and is a partnership between Narayana Health, which oversees a network of 14 hospitals across India, and Ascension, a private-not-for-profit health system in the U.S.

Damon Romanello, executive director and managing principal, Studio+ (Fort Myers, Fla.), says the location was chosen based on its proximity to U.S. and was designed to resemble the standards of a hospital there.

“They wanted to still cater to the U.S. or the Western part of the world and make them feel comfortable,” he says. “The hospital, from a fit and finish and interior design standpoint is very much like what you would see in the States.”

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be diving into medical tourism, looking at this changing market and the influences on the design of these facilities. For instance, how do aesthetics and services play a role in attracting a patient to a particular facility? And what must-haves should every project consider?

I'll share these findings in HCD's May/June issue. In the meantime, I'd love to hear about your experiences with medical tourism. Share your thoughts below or reach out at