Medical Tourism: Why Americans travel overseas for treatment

Puerto Vallarta is poised to be a top international medical tourism destination. It has sufficient infrastructure, excellent hotels and amenities and is an easy destination to access from many points around the world. As the industry grows and Mexico becomes one of the most important destinations for medical tourism it becomes important for the industry to understand what the patients are searching for in services and amenities.
A research study of US consumers has identified different reasons why various socio-demographic groups would consider medical tourism. The aim of the study is to help medical tourism agents refine their marketing strategies on medical tourism.
The research identified demographic groups likely to participate in medical tourism and identified three components (risk-related, social-related, vacation-related) that explain their motivation to travel abroad for treatment.
The research tested several hypotheses about Americans’ motivation to use medical tourism Among the major findings are:
• The uninsured, low-income, and black consumers are more sensitive to risk-related factors than the well-insured, middle- to high-income groups, and white consumers.
• The older and the married consumers are more motivated by social-related factors than the young adults aged 18-21 and single.
• The more proficient a person is in a foreign language, the less they are motivated by social-related factors.
The finding that the uninsured are less likely than the well insured to be motivated by risk factors to travel abroad for treatment argues that if something goes wrong, the uninsured have to pick up the bill for putting things right on their own; so are more concerned with international accreditation, hospital affiliation with US hospitals, high standards of accommodation and their own doctors recommendation. Also they were more concerned about privacy, confidentiality, good infrastructure, political stability and a sound legal system when choosing where to travel for care.
Those on a higher income are more concerned than others with high standards of accommodation, high quality of care, post-care, a safe trip and cost savings.
People over 65 are the most concerned with political stability and a sound legal system, while those aged 51 to 64 were most concerned about good infrastructure.
Those aged 41 to 50 and the married, were the most concerned about a similar culture.
While the authors admit that the study has many limitations. It clearly shows is that consumers are not alike, and that differences in income, socio-economic status, culture, and other variants mean that what concerns one person about medical tourism is not the same as the next person and that the ‘save lots of money‘ basic marketing approach to Americans is far off beam.


  1. Visitors on vacation to Puerto Vallarta, do not plan on getting ill. Especially when they have traveled alone. In all the three decades that I had traveled to PV and stayed at the Canto del Sol , I never had a medical problem requiring a doctor. For several days and nights several years ago, I had an excruciating pain in my right side of my abdomen . not used to ever getting sick, I tried to ignore it.

    Unable to take it any longer two days later, I called the hotel information operator to see if they had a nurse on their staff. I was advised to see the Pharmacy located across the street. He knew exactly what the problem was after looking at me and listening to my words of distress.

    A two boxes of pills, one a pain killer and the seconds an antibiotic. With the pain gone, and a good nights sleep, I recovered in a couple of days. It is a good idea when staying in Mexico to locate the local Pharmacy and get to know them on a first name basis. You never know. I could have saved myself several days of grief during my three week vacation.

    Like my son-in-laws who came to PV with us, who liked the Mexican beer, but the beer did not like them. They have been unwilling to come back with us..

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