If you haven’t looked into the growing medical tourism market, the recent Ypartnership/Harrison Group 2010 Portrait Of American Travelers (SM) survey will give you a pretty good diagnosis of the very healthy-looking booking activities this niche market prescribes.

According to the survey, fully one-half (50 percent) of leisure travelers are now familiar with the concept of medical tourism, and one out of six (17 percent) would consider having a medical procedure done outside the U.S., assuming it is perceived to be of comparable quality. Another one out of five (22 percent) is “not sure,” suggesting they would also be open to considering this as an alternative to treatment at home if certain conditions were met.

Needless to say, given the rapidly escalating cost of major medical care in the U.S., interest in exploring the benefits of medical tourism comes as no surprise. Among adults who would consider traveling outside the U.S. for major medical care, more than eight out of 10 (84 percent) cite the lower cost as the primary reason why (the cost of performing major surgical procedures can, in some instances, be up to 70 percent less than in the U.S.). Two-thirds (66 percent) mention comparable or a better quality of care, while four in 10 (43 percent) cite access to medical treatments or procedures that are not covered by their insurance at home or shorter waiting periods to access care (41 percent). Another one out of five (22 percent) cites access to experimental or non-FDA approved treatments and/or concerns about privacy (20 percent).

Among countries measured in the survey as possible medical tourism destinations, Canada reigns as the number one choice. The top 10 countries include: Canada (42 percent), United Kingdom (32 percent), Germany (31 percent), Sweden (28 percent), France (24 percent), Mexico (13 percent), India (11 percent), Singapore (10 percent), Costa Rica (9 percent), and Brazil (7 percent). Closer to home, roughly one out of 10 (7 percent) of U.S. travelers would be interested in traveling to Puerto Rico for major medical care where the financial incentives are comparable and the travel time considerably less.

Most importantly, travel agents will play a significant role in the development of the emerging medical tourism industry throughout the world. Indeed, Dr. Devi Prasad Shetty, chairman of the Narayana Hrudayalaya Bangalore medical facility in Bangalore, India, was recently quoted in the online Travel Market Report saying that, “Medical tourism can not grow without the active participation by the travel agents.” The report went on to say that Dr. Shetty is opening a medical travel facility in the Cayman Islands that will serve patients traveling from the U.S., Latin America and the Caribbean. “We definitely will be tying up with travel agents in this region” to get the message out about the medical travel treatments available in the Caymans and “for organizing the travel plans for our patients,” he wrote.

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His company has worked with Cayman Island tourism and government officials on plans to create a 2,000-bed health city in the Cayman Islands that will include a large assisted living facility. With life expectancy significantly increasing worldwide, “There is a desperate need of large-scale assisted living” in the Caribbean, Dr. Shetty wrote.

Plans for the Narayana Cayman University Medical Center include advanced care for heart, cancer, eye and gynecological diseases, along with organ transplants and cell-based therapy. The Cayman facility is also planning to include a center for tertiary care (specialized consultative care, usually on referral) for patients coming from the Caribbean, South America, Canada and the U.S. An important component of the Narayana Cayman University Medical Center will be education for physicians and other healthcare professionals—what Dr. Shetty calls “super specialists of the future.” At the same time, Dr. Shetty said that treatments in the Cayman Islands facility would cost half as much as in the U.S.

In the following pages, we’ve highlighted five different countries—India, Turkey, Costa Rica, Peru and Taiwan—all of which have medical tourism facilities, as well as pre- and post-touring and booking opportunities for both the patient and the accompanying caregiver.