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Health Policy. 2010 Dec;98(2-3):171-7. doi: 10.1016/j.healthpol.2010.06.006.

Impact of medical travel on imports and exports of medical services.

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  • 1Department of Health Systems Management, Rush University, Chicago, IL, USA.



Medical travel is travel outside of an individual's home region or country in pursuit of medical care that is more accessible, of higher quality and/or of lower cost. This paper estimates the inflows of foreign residents seeking medical care in the U.S. and outflows of U.S. residents seeking care abroad.


Using data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, U.S. International Trade Administration and a survey of domestic health care providers, we estimate the lower and upper bounds for the number of medical travelers into and out of the U.S. and the value of these services.


We estimate that between 43,000 and 103,000 foreigners came into the U.S. for medical care, and between 50,000 and 121,000 U.S. residents traveled abroad for care in 2007. Despite a net loss in the number of medical travelers flowing out of the U.S. for care, the trade surplus for medical travel could be as high as $1 billion.


While a slight net outflow of patients leaving the U.S. for medical care may exist, the resulting impact on exports is still positive for the U.S., due to a higher average spending per patient coming to the U.S. New mechanisms are needed to track the balance of mobility and trade for medical care on a regular basis.

Copyright © 2010 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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