The Social Role and Economic Significance of the Health Travel Trade- Q & A with Congress Speaker

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At the upcoming World Medical Tourism & Global Healthcare Congress Professor David Reisman will be presenting on two topics, the first is on cross-border investment and the second is on the ethics of medical travel. He is currently a professor of economics at the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore and professor emeritus of economics at the University of Surrey, England.  He studied at the London School of Economics where he began developing his interest in social policies.


“The international movement of inputs and outputs in the healthcare field was something that followed naturally from my research on the balance between market and state in the satisfaction of basic needs,” said Reisman.

Reisman is also author of the books titled Health Tourism: Social Welfare Through International Trade and Health Care and Public Policy. In the interview below he discusses how his books and expertise fit into the realm of health tourism which helps to illustrate why he was chosen to be one of the esteemed speakers at  the Congress!

How did you get involved in health tourism and what is your current role in this field?

I wrote Health Care and Public Policy because I felt it was important to spell out in what way medical treatment is an economic trade table and in what way it is not. Some people say that the demand for health is a need, not a want, that consumers cannot choose rationally because of supplier-induced demand, that information-asymmetry makes it essential for the government to regulate and sometimes even to provide.


In my book, I tried to separate the truth from the myth and the mystique. Subsequently, in Health Tourism: Social Welfare Through International Trade, I sought to extend the argument from one country to all countries. We import tomatoes and textiles.  Why should tonsils and adenoids be any different? That, at any rate, was the question. I am still trying to find the answer.

In terms of your book Health Tourism: Social Welfare Through International Trade, what do you mean by “social welfare?”

Welfare is one of those “weasel” words that mean different things to different people. Some use it in the sense of ‘welfare state;’ they say that the outsourcing of British patients from the National Health Service to Indian hospitals in Chennai and Delhi is proof that Britain cares because public finance goes further and British wait times are less.


Others use welfare in the sense of ‘well-being;’ they welcome the freedom to choose, provided that it is voluntary and informed, because the patients can select from a wider range of services, including those that they could not possibly have afforded in their own country.


I use ‘welfare’ to mean both National Health welfare and free-market welfare. The objectives need not be all that far apart. Governments, unless they are very bad governments, sincerely want to make sick people well.


The bargain struck between doctors and patients is more of the same. The debate is not about the definition of welfare but about how to attain it. International trade in health-related services is one option. There are others.

Could you briefly describe the content of your book?

The book is a multidisciplinary account of the way in which lower costs, shorter waiting-times, a different menu of services, the chance to combine recreational tourism with a check-up or an operation all come together to make medical travel a growth industry.


The book concludes that medical travel has great potential to create jobs and wealth while giving sick people high-quality care at an affordable price. The argument is supported with examples and case-studies, mainly from Asia. The overview is there but so is the analysis. The book, like all academic studies, tries to situate health travel in a broader social and economic context.

Is your book intended for academics and industry moguls or more for consumers of the industry?

It is intended for academics, medical professionals, insurance executives, travel facilitators, civil servants, political leaders, hospital administrators, curious patients, members of the public – for everyone, in a nutshell, who is interested in the internationalisation of the medical experience. It does not require any prior knowledge of the social sciences or any of the medical disciplines.

What is the most important message you want people to take away with them after reading this book?

Mainly, they will learn how the pieces of the puzzle fit together and where to situate themselves on the emerging healthcare map. My book does not tell them how to do business; they know that already. What it tells them is the social role and the economic significance of the health travel trade.


It will not teach readers any new techniques, but it will open new doors. That is the single most important thing I want people to take away from the book and from my presentations at the conference.


Why did you agree to present at the World Medical Tourism & Global Healthcare Congress?

The conference provides an excellent opportunity for academics to exchange ideas with practitioners. Academics have the paradigms, the heuristics and, of course, the schemata. Practitioners have a wealth of grassroots experience and real-world knowledge of what makes the thing work. It is two sides of a single coin.

Does your book tie in to your upcoming presentations at the conference?

Absolutely. My presentations will be on multinational investment, cross-national problem- solving and the ethics of marketing medicine for profit.  These were core topics in my book.

Can you describe what your topic is about and why you chose to discuss it? Why is this topic important for people within the industry to understand?

I will be giving two papers. The first is on cross-border investment. People in the industry, like all other people, will be interested to know how capital, and not just consumers, forms part of the new trade in health-related services.


The second is on the ethics of medical travel. Jobs are created, and jobs are destroyed. Some patients gain access, and others lose out. The paper says that health tourism is not an unmixed blessing but that on balance, the advantages will almost certainly outweigh the dangers.