VISA Admits Error. Shame Shame Shame.

In a recent report from VISA and Oxford Economics, entitled “Mapping the Future of Global Travel and Tourism,” the global medical tourism market was valued at $439 Billion.  VISA communicated via personal email that it is redacting that statement as erroneous. No revision has been published and questions remain outstanding. For example, no definition of medical tourism was provided. Does it include health travel related expenditures, emergency health, expatriate health across the 176 countries included in the study? What is the projected number based upon their stated methodology? “Industry consensus” does not exist.

Projections based upon one financial company’s spending data is merely a method of evaluation and presumably an underestimated estimate of financial impact since there are many forms of healthcare funding. It appears VISA used a wellness tourism industry estimate from 2013. Of course, the OECD pointed out the inconsistent definition/data problem when it published its report on medical tourism in 2012 citing the range of $30 to $60 billion back then referencing 2008 origins.

There is no simple math when comparing dental treatments with complex six month stay oncology treatments. What we know is that those valuing the industry do not have a consensus from the industry as to how to measure it. It’s as unreliable as the figures published by nations about their inbound medical tourism figures for the same problem of definition.

Data from lead generation websites is not a very reliable indicator of spending. One more reliable financial data points for tracking healthcare spending is from insurance payor and government expense reports that involves more complex and high cost medical services such as cardiology, neurology, pediatrics and oncology. If the US and Europe offer higher priced services, then the disparity in pricing for those services should be considered as well as the cost and volume of services offered in Costa Rica versus Germany.

There is without doubt a need of health and tourism industries to work collaboratively to drill down into measurable and comparable data points and to better use technology to collect data over time. Yet are we really achieving anything by shaming VISA?

Many reports have been published on medical tourism with varying degrees of credibility from well renowned research firms and those less known. It is ignorant to suggest any government or responsible business is going to make an investment of resources based upon one single report. Thank you VISA for confirming – we still don’t know what we still don’t know.

Instead of shaming, it would make more sense to come to a consensus on how to measure it and then to measure it. Let’s each do this at the national level and then consolidate at the regional and then global levels. Let’s focus on how to serve our patients and assure we are delivering the quality and experience to patients they are
entitled to so they want to come back. Otherwise, there will be nothing to count at all.


Warm Regards,

Renée-MarieStephano, JD
Medical Tourism Association





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