A Brief History of Medical Tourism

Find out more about the exciting history of medical tourism and wellness travel, which is an old habit dating back thousands of years.

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Spa Culture Roman Bath The Ancient Greeks

The habit of travelling across borders for health purposes is not a new invention. People have been practicing this for thousands of years. The earliest destinations were mineral-rich thermal springs around the Mediterranean thought to improve the health and well being of the enjoyers. The Sumerians were constructing health facilities around these hot springs as early as 4000 BC. But it was the ancient Greeks who built the first major health tourism sites. The facility at Epidauria in the Saronic Gulf is the most famous and is also considered the original destination for medical travel.

The Spa Culture

The practice of visiting spa towns and sanitariums boomed in the 17th and 18th Centuries when the European elite rediscovered the Roman Baths. Tourist towns grew up around spas such as Baden Baden, Bath and St. Moritz. The word “spa” (which comes from the latin term “salude per aqua” – “health through waters”) now also began to be used for any wellness facility which did not practice traditional clinical medicine. During the 19th Century people would travel to remote sanitariums in the hope to find treatment for diseases such as bronchitis and tuberculosis.

The Asian Counterparts

But it is not only Europe that has a long tradition of health tourismJapan and India are two Asian examples. The popular onsen (mineral springs) in Japan and the alternative medicine practice in India have attracted faraway travelers for thousands of years.

The 1900s

Thai Massage Herbal CompressDental surgerycosmetic surgery and more serious kinds of medical surgery abroad is a relatively new phenomenon. This tendency started in the 1980’s, when patients began to look for more affordable alternatives abroad. An example of this is many Americans, that went to Central America for dental procedures usually not covered by their insurance.

Cuba was one of the frontier nations for offshore treatment. In the late 1980s, the country started programs to attract foreigners from Europe, Latin America and India. In 1990, the Cuban government stated that around 2,000 patients from around the world came to the country for treatment.

After the currency collapsed in Thailand in 1997, tourism officials marketed the country as the new hub for cosmetic surgery. Thailand soon became a popular destination, and gradually more countries in Asia saw the potential and developed their markets. Today, the global healthcare market is expanding towards new horizons, and only history will tell what the future has in it for this booming industry.

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