Inbound, Outbound, and Domestic: The Current Situation in the Chinese Medical Tourism Market

Inbound, Outbound, and Domestic: The Current Situation in the Chinese Medical Tourism Market

Kazem Vafadari (Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, Japan)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 14
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8574-1.ch024
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Abstract

China is now being promoted as a medical tourism destination, however visa difficulties, and the lack of quality destinations mean the numbers of inbound tourists are so far small. The real interest for the moment lies in the growth that has now made China one of the main suppliers of outbound medical tourists. This Chapter shows that the number of Chinese going abroad for medical treatment has increased significantly in recent years due to rising incomes and fewer restrictions on mobility. Chinese health consumers appear not to be as motivated by price as US citizens, but more by their ability to substitute overseas destinations for the poor medical services at home. Development has generated a group of people wealthy enough to demand the quality care available world-wide, and internally has promoted significant domestic medical tourism from the less well-endowed regions to those that have such services available.
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Introduction

China is now being promoted as a medical tourism destination, but the difficulty of getting visas and a lack of recognizable destinations mean the numbers going there are so far small (Liu, 2008; Zhang & Yang, 2007). The real issue is the economic growth that has now made China one of the main suppliers of outbound medical tourists to Asian and other destinations. The number of Chinese going abroad for medical treatment has increased significantly in recent years due to the rising affluence and mobility of the country’s emerging middle class population (Travel China Guide, 2014). Chinese health consumers are not motivated by price in the same way as US or UK citizens for example, but by the poor medical services available at home. China’s rapid development into the world’s second largest economy over the past few decades has generated millions of people wealthy enough to demand the highest quality of care available worldwide and pursue elective medical procedures to offset this situation. Countries offering medical tourism services are, however, finding that Chinese consumers are willing to pay high prices for quality services and privacy, but only if the service is meeting Chinese consumer expectations (Li, 2014).

China’s healthcare system has and will be improved but it starts from a low base of public healthcare provision, rather than a mix of private and public care as in other countries. Treatment costs remain very low, but the range of services is narrow, and service quality varies from excellent to very basic. One key to this huge market potential is, as some hospitals and clinics in South Korea and the USA have quickly realized, is Chinese-speaking staff. While many Chinese speak several languages, including English, they are only comfortable using these for tourism, not for the technical aspects of medical treatment or business (Wang, 2014).

The most popular destinations for medical tourists from China include Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong and the USA (IMTJ, 2011). The number of outbound Chinese medical tourists has increased from just a few thousand in 2000 to nearly 60,000 annual travelers in 2010 (IMTJ, 2011). Anti-aging therapy, cancer screening, high-end diagnostics, and treatment and care for chronic diseases have become the most common types of procedures sought out by these tourists (IMTJ, 2011; Li, 2014). For those who want to venture abroad for treatment but have not done so yet: language barriers and lack of private health insurance are seen as the principal obstacles to partaking in overseas medical treatment (IMTJ, 2011; Li, 2014). Health insurance in China is very new still. Some Chinese health travelers are expectant mothers leaving the mainland to give birth in a foreign country-maternity tourism. While some argue that it is to avoid local laws on the number of children, this argument falls down as they all return to China. The more believable reason is that many come from other parts of China such as Hong Kong or Taiwan so want to’ go home’ for birth. In 2010, 40,648 mainland mothers gave birth to children in Hong Kong hospitals, out of the 88,000 total in the city for 2010. New legislation by Hong Kong limits the number of non-residents allowed to give birth in the city to 34,000 in 2012 and beyond (IMTJ, 2011).

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