Academic journal article Journal of Tourism Challenges and Trends

The Role of Personal Values in Determining U.S. Medical Tourists' Expectations and Perceptions of Healthcare Facility Service Quality: An Exploratory Investigation

Academic journal article Journal of Tourism Challenges and Trends

The Role of Personal Values in Determining U.S. Medical Tourists' Expectations and Perceptions of Healthcare Facility Service Quality: An Exploratory Investigation

Article excerpt

Introduction

In a seemingly short period of time, interest in medical tourism has skyrocketed and the subject has garnered increased attention in trade and business journals as well as the popular press. Although people have traveled for medical treatment and health/wellness benefits since early times (e.g., in ancient Greece, pilgrims and patients from all over the Mediterranean journeyed to the sanctuary of Asclepius, the god of healing, at Epidaurus(1)), at the present time, fueled by the high cost of healthcare, long wait times for certain procedures, consumers seeking treatments unavailable at home, increased consumerism, the readily available medical and healthcare information on the Internet, the ease and affordability of international travel, and improvements in both technology and standards of care in many countries, medical tourism has emerged as a significant and rapidly growing phenomenon in the healthcare industry (Keckley & Underwood 2008; Lunt, Hardey & Mannion 2010). Since different definitions of medical tourism exist (Edelheit 2008), for the purpose of the present research, which focuses on U.S. medical tourists who traveled abroad for medical care, medical tourism is defined as the process of travelling from one's home country with the primary intention of receiving medical treatment and care in another country (Lunt et al. 2010).

In the United States, more than 648,000 Americans traveled abroad for medical care in 2009 (Martin 2010), and that number is expected to increase to 1.6 million by 2012, with sustainable annual growth of 35 percent, barring any tempering factors such as supply constraints, resistance from health plans, increased domestic competition, or governmental policies (Keckley & Underwood 2009). (2) Globally, it has been estimated that the medical tourism industry currently generates annual revenues up to $60 billion, with 20 percent annual growth (Horowitz, Rosensweig & Jones 2007). Hence, medical tourism is potentially very profitable for countries and businesses involved in this industry while at the same time possibly becoming very costly to the U.S. healthcare system given the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions' estimate of a potential opportunity cost to U.S. healthcare providers of $228.5 to $599.5 billion by 2017 (Keckley & Underwood 2008).

Despite the increasing number of U.S. consumers travelling abroad for medical care, receiving safe and quality care remains the primary concern for consumers considering outbound medical tourism as a treatment option (Keckley & Underwood 2008; Timmons 2009). The biggest problem non-U.S. medical tourism providers face is a long-identified barrier that has yet to be overcome, i.e., American patients' discomfort with the idea of travelling to foreign countries for care that they are not sure will meet U.S. standards (Lewis Dolan 2009).

Together with consumers' continued concerns about safety and quality, two interrelated problems currently facing industry participants is increased competition in the medical tourism marketplace and the lack of marketing which hampers their efforts to outshine the competition (Edelheit 2009). As the medical tourism industry continues to grow and more and more companies, organizations, and countries begin to focus on this sector of travel, it will be critical for those involved on the supply side of the medical tourism industry to consistently deliver a high level of service quality to differentiate themselves in the marketplace and to satisfy the needs and motives of the various types and growing number of medical tourist consumers (Jyothis & Janardhanan 2009; Mueller & Kaufmann 2001). Those medical tourism providers (companies, organizations, and countries), which do not provide high quality service and maintain an excellent customer satisfaction rating, will find it more and more difficult to remain sustainable in the increasingly competitive market environment (Lee & Spisto 2007). …

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