Beyond "medical tourism": Canadian companies marketing medical travel
Center for Bioethics, School of Public Health, College of Pharmacy, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, USA
Globalization and Health 2012, 8:16 doi:10.1186/1744-8603-8-16Published: 15 June 2012
Despite having access to medically necessary care available through publicly funded provincial health care systems, some Canadians travel for treatment provided at international medical facilities as well as for-profit clinics found in several Canadian provinces. Canadians travel abroad for orthopaedic surgery, bariatric surgery, ophthalmologic surgery, stem cell injections, “Liberation therapy” for multiple sclerosis, and additional interventions. Both responding to public interest in medical travel and playing an important part in promoting the notion of a global marketplace for health services, many Canadian companies market medical travel.
Research began with the goal of locating all medical tourism companies based in Canada. Various strategies were used to find such businesses. During the search process it became apparent that many Canadian business promoting medical travel are not medical tourism companies. To the contrary, numerous types of businesses promote medical travel. Once businesses promoting medical travel were identified, content analysis was used to extract information from company websites. Company websites were analyzed to establish: 1) where in Canada these businesses are located; 2) the destination countries and health care facilities that they market; 3) the medical procedures they promote; 4) core marketing messages; and 5) whether businesses market air travel, hotel accommodations, and holiday tours in addition to medical procedures.
Searches conducted from 2006 to 2011 resulted in identification of thirty-five Canadian businesses currently marketing various kinds of medical travel. The research project began with what seemed to be the straightforward goal of establishing how many medical tourism companies are based in Canada. Refinement of categories resulted in the identification of eighteen businesses fitting the category of what most researchers would identify as medical tourism companies. Seven other businesses market regional, cross-border health services available in the United States and intranational travel to clinics in Canada. In contrast to medical tourism companies, they do not market holiday tours in addition to medical care. Two companies occupy a narrow market niche and promote testing for CCSVI and “Liberation therapy” for multiple sclerosis. Three additional companies offer bariatric surgery and cosmetic surgery at facilities in Mexico. Four businesses offer health insurance products intended to cover the cost of obtaining privately financed health care in the U.S. These businesses also help their clients arrange treatment beyond Canada’s borders. Finally, one medical travel company based in Canada markets health services primarily to U.S. citizens.
This article uses content analysis of websites of Canadian companies marketing medical travel to provide insight into Canada’s medical travel industry. The article reveals a complex marketplace with different types of companies taking distinct approaches to marketing medical travel.