New Name, Old Practice

Posted on: 01-22-2016

Rafi Elliott


Medical Tourism in History

The past few years has seen a significant rise in a phenomenon we have dubbed “medical tourism”. The term is quite general but it refers to the practice of seeking various medical procedures outside of your home country. Millions of people are traveling abroad in order to receive medical care, the reasons vary from cost related issues to seeking higher quality. Although the term may be new, the practice certainly is not.  Medical tourism has in fact been going on throughout history. People have been traveling long distances to better their health for thousands of years.

Sure it may have looked different way back when, as even the wealthiest king or queen couldn’t just hop on a plane and galavant across the globe for a dental implant.  But there were those that would take on an arduous journey to travel to location known for their “medical” advantages. For example, archaeological evidence from the third millennium BC suggests that ancient Mesopotamians traveled to the temple of a healing god or goddess at Tell Brak, Syria, in search of a cure for eye disorders. A few thousand years later the Greeks and Romans would travel by foot or ship to spas and cult centers all around the Mediterranean. The Greeks erected the Asclepia Temples, which became some of the world’s first health centers. People from all over, traveled to these temples to seek cures for their ailments.

Later in the 16th and 17th centuries, spa towns such as St Moritz and Bath became prime destinations for the European upper classes looking to soothe their ills The same bronze drinking cups that they used were found in thermal springs in France and Germany, which could signify health pilgrimages within these cultures. The most noteworthy traveler in the history of Medical Tourism was Michel Eyquem de Montaigne. He was the French inventor of the essay, and was believed to be the father of luxury travel. He helped write the earliest documented spa guide in medical tourism history.

What kind of “procedures” were the ancients seeking? No butt lifts or hip and knee replacements, that’s for sure. Many were looking for “healing” waters or the benevolence of the gods to cure common ailments of the time such as rheumatism, syphilis, gonorrhea, blindness and paralysis.

Modern medical tourism as we know it today has largely been the result of several factors including the high cost of medical care in first world nations, ease of long distance travel, and advances in information technology. It has become a multi-million dollar industry that has been exponentially growing, and is expected to grow by nearly 25% in the upcoming year.

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