There was a time when wealthy people traveled to more developed countries in search of superior medical care. Such was the case in America. Up until the late 1980s, foreigners came to the United States to visit the big cities and have a medical procedure with superior doctors in modern facilities. Americans also enjoyed traveling domestically to save money on medical work while staying in beautiful cities where the cost of care was far less than where they lived. Yet this phenomenon can be traced far back into history.
Combining a medical treatment with a vacation is not a new phenomenon. For thousands of years people with the need for inexpensive medical care have sought to save money and travel at the same time.
As early as 4000 BC, travelers came from far away countries to the temples of Gula in Mesopotamia. In the temples they obtained diagnoses for their diseases. These travelers then fared further to the Sumerian region of the country to health centers built around hot springs where they obtained treatments. The cities housing these temples were said to be the cradles of Mesopotamian culture.
Over time the Greek civilization took on the same tradition with their Asclepiad temples. Asclepius was a gifted healer who over time was elevated to the God of Medicine. Greeks traveled to these and other temples like the one at Delphi to find healing and comfort. The medical tourists of the time usually found care in the form of hot baths, healthy food, and red wine.
Basing health centers around hot springs was the trend throughout ancient history until the middle ages. This was seen in Japan, Switzerland, and ancient Rome. The only notable exception was in India where Ayurvedic medicine and Yoga drew ailing travelers from the ancient world in search of relief.
Advances in medicine emerged to such a degree that in the 9th century, the vizier of Baghdad, founded the first hospitals. These institutions were later eclipsed in the 12th century in the city of Cairo, Egypt. The Nasiri and the much larger Mansuri Hospitals were the most modern facilities of their kind. The centers provided care for any person who traveled in need of medicine.
Renaissance and Post Renaissance Periods
While hospitals focused on elevating the medical practice, healing centers based around hot springs continued to thrive. In the 1500’s, several ancient Roman baths were rehabilitated in England, France, and Switzerland. One of the most notable was in Bath, England and the center attract travelers from all over Europe.
Post Revolution America
Health centers spawned over time throughout the countryside in America. Some of these were based in Catskill Mountains of New York, where visitors could stay in a luxurious hotel while enjoying the health benefits of clean air and alternative medicines.
The 20th and 21st Centuries
Seeking medical care while traveling continues to draw visitors to far away places. These days the practice is drawing medical tourists to Asian, Central and South American countries. Thailand is known for its low costs of care and extremely inexpensive living prices. Spas and hot springs are no longer considered medical treatments, but most health care travelers might seek the relaxing benefits obtainable at a spa in order to complement their medical treatment.
History shows that medical tourism has existed as long as inexpensive care was located in or around cities with cultural attractions or exotic panoramas. As long as medical care is expensive in developed countries developing nations will have a steady stream of tourists the benefits of good medical care at low prices while enjoying themselves abroad at the same time.
A Little History of Medical Tourism
Medical tourism is often thought of as a recent phenomenon. The truth, however, is that people have been traveling long distances to better their health for thousands of years. Granted, it’s hard to picture a swarthy chieftain traipsing across the desert on his camel to barter for a nicer set of pearly whites. Were clinics and hospitals even around that long ago, thousands of years ago?
Archaeological evidence from the third millennium B. C. 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 Asclepia Temples, dedicated in honor of the Greek god of medicine, were some of the world’s first health centers. Pilgrims would sometimes spend several nights in the temple, hoping Asclepios would appear in a dream and suggest a diagnosis or treatment.
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. 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.