The first ever detailed study on health and medical tourism in Australia,’ Health tourism in Australia: supply, demand and opportunities” has been published by the government funded Sustainable Tourism Cooperative Research Centre. This technical report presents a robust understanding of health and wellness tourism in Australia, and to a much lesser extent, medical tourism. It provides information and outcomes relevant for future development of the wellness and medical tourism industries in Australia.
Australia does not yet offer medical tourism in any organised way as the number of international inbound visitors that meet the definition of a medical tourist is, according to the report, a consistent 7,000 a year from 2006 to 2009. While official figures suggest that there are over a million medical tourists in Australia each year, this is a definition that comes out of the unusual state based and insurance based healthcare systems in the country; so almost all of these are simply Australians travelling away from their home town/city, frequently a relatively short distance by Australian standards, but not by European standards, for medical treatment. There are a much larger number of health and wellness travellers, but again the vast majority of these are from within the country. There are very few hospitals or clinics offering facilities to medical tourists from overseas. This research suggests that Australia would benefit from developing niche medical tourism offerings based on Australian medical strengths/expertise, as has occurred with the Cairns Fertility Clinic and its IVF services. Possible areas for development of Australian medical tourism services include cardiology, urology, orthopaedic surgery and oncology. The report recommends that Australia seek a competitive advantage internationally by focusing on the provision of quality services at a lower price point than the United States, and based on niche medical offerings in which Australia has an international reputation and expertise.
There is no state or national government policy on or support of medical tourism and no particular recognition of this as an area of distinctive opportunity. The prospect of medical tourism is seen by all these governments as fraught with difficulties for governments concerned with voters’ perceptions of medical resources being handed over to private sector entrepreneurs. The research suggests that the best way forward would be for the national government to establish and fund a body that develops a nationally coordinated medical tourism policy and actively promotes Australia as an international medical tourism destination through trade shows and other forums. To encourage the development of medical tourism, it is recommended that submissions are developed and presented to government to illustrate the potential for medical tourism to contribute to the supply of medical services and facilities in Australia and to contribute export income to the Australian economy.
One problem identified is that the visa application process for medical tourists is so complex that most medical tourists enter Australia on a tourist visa rather than go through the process of applying for a medical visa due to the associated delay. It recommends that the application process for medical visas (long-stay and short- stay) be reviewed and streamlined. The report identified a problem on price as Australia does not have a comparable selling point on price to India, but Australian medical services are still considerably cheaper than in the United States and several treatments are also less costly than in South Korea.