BACKGROUND: Medical tourism is a growing phenomenon. This review of the literature maps current knowledge and discusses findings with reference to the UK National Health Service (NHS). METHODS: Databases were systematically searched between September 2011 and March 2012 and 100 papers were selected for review. RESULTS: The literature shows specific types of tourism depending on treatment, eg, dentistry, cosmetic, or fertility. Patient motivation is complex and while further research is needed, factors beyond cost, including availability and distance, are clearly important. The provision of medical tourism varies. Volume of patient travel, economic cost and benefit were established for 13 countries. It highlights contributions not only to recipient countries' economies but also to a possible growth in health systems' inequities. Evidence suggests that UK patients travel abroad to receive treatment, complications arise and are treated by the NHS, indicating costs from medical travel for originating health systems. CONCLUSION: It demonstrates the importance of quality standards and holds lessons as the UK and other EU countries implement the EU Directive on cross-border care. Lifting the private-patient-cap for NHS hospitals increases potential for growth in inbound medical tourism; yet no research exists on this. Research is required on volume, cost, patient motivation, industry, and on long-term health outcomes in medical tourists.
Developing countries have been attracting more international patients by building state-of-the-art facilities and offering sought-after healthcare services at a fraction of the cost of the US healthcare system. These price differentials matter most for elective procedures, including cosmetic surgeries, which are paid for out of pocket. It is unclear how this rise in medical tourism will affect the practice of plastic surgery, which encompasses a uniquely large number of elective procedures. By examining trends in the globalization of the cosmetic surgery market, we can better understand the current situation and what plastic surgeons in the United States can expect. In this article, we explore both domestic and foreign factors that affect surgical tourism and the current state of this industry. We also discuss how it may affect the practice of cosmetic surgery within the United States.