Travel Bug: Medical Tourism And The Role Of Design
You likely know Morgan Spurlock as the guy who taught us all to pass on extra fries in his 2004 Academy Award-winning documentary “Super Size Me.” In the film, Spurlock challenged himself to only eat McDonald’s food for one month, documenting the effects the diet had on his health and overall well-being.
His latest project continues to play on his fondness for full immersion. “Inside Man,” a series airing on CNN, puts him at the helm of insider investigations into a variety of topics. The one that got my attention recently, though, was an episode on medical tourism.
The setup takes into account the fact that although healthcare reform has provided loads of Americans with insurance who didn't have coverage before, it hasn’t done a whole lot about the cost of care. The result is millions of people who are either under-insured or who have high-deductible plans are still facing pretty sizable out-of-pocket expenses.
Spurlock decided to price out an MRI for some shoulder pain that had been bugging him and eventually compared quotes here in the U.S. to those at medical tourism destination Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok. And soon, the inside man was in.
Spurlock and his crew spent days immersed at Bumrungrad, where he got that MRI as well as a host of other preventive health screenings, from a colonoscopy to chest scan to abdominal ultrasound. In the end, his tab came to about $3,000 for treatment and about $4,300 total with hotel and airfare.
When thinking about those high deductibles here at home, medical tourism starts to make a whole lot of financial sense.
But it wasn’t just price that got Spurlock’s attention during his trip. It was also the environment he was in. Bumrungrad was visually stunning, the epitome of hospitality in healthcare. More than aesthetics, though, the building ran like clockwork. Medical tourists who Spurlock interviewed noted the efficiency, one saying wait times are just minutes, if that, compared to hours in the U.S. And it all came with the same outcomes, or better, than you’d expect domestically.
And when patients aren’t in the hospital, Bangkok’s white sand beaches and coconut drinks were calling. It’s not a bad picture that’s being painted, and plenty have taken notice.
According to Patients Beyond Borders, 1.2 million Americans were expected to travel outside the U.S. for care in 2014 (and frequently to tropical locales), with the worldwide market estimated between $38.5 billion and $55 billion and growing at a rate of 15-25 percent. Top destinations include Costa Rica, Malaysia, Mexico, and Thailand, among others. The types of care being sought cover cosmetic surgery, dentistry, cardiovascular care, orthopedic care, cancer care, and all those general health screenings that Spurlock had done.
It’s certainly a market full of opportunity, and designers should take heed.
The healthcare experience at Bumrungrad has been carefully crafted for those who have the cash to pay for—and expect—its luxury services. Those services, ironically, just happen to be more affordable for many here in the U.S. than those available close to home.
Overall, it comes down to a lot of dollars and cents, for sure. But after watching this, there’s no doubt that the environment of care is a huge piece of Bumrungrad’s success and probably the success of just about any medical tourism destination. From streamlining operations to creating an ideal patient experience, design is helping providers carve out their stake in the market.
For more on medical tourism and how recent projects were designed with an eye on travelers, see “Medical Tourism: An Evolving Market That's Ripe For Growth And Opportunity.”