History of Medical Tourism

Medical Tourism History

The practice of traveling for health and medical reasons has a long history. Even the ancient civilizations recognized the therapeutic effects of mineral thermal springs and sacred temple baths. Medical travelers from around the world have been searching far and wide to seek the best medical services. One can say that the concept of medical travel is as old as medicine itself. Medical tourism history in fact dates back thousands of years.
Traditionally, it was individuals from less-developed countries who would travel to renown medical centers in highly-developed countries for medical purposes. However, in recent times, the trend has shifted, with individuals from developed countries traveling to less-developed countries, due in part to factors such as cost considerations and the lack or leniency of certain rules and regulations regarding a specific medical treatment.
For example, the Sumerians constructed health complexes around hot springs more than four thousand years ago, which included temples with flowing pools.
However, traveling with the intention of receiving treatments, such as cosmetic surgery, dental care and other complex procedures is a relatively new phenomenon, having begun only several decades ago throughout the world.
Ancient Romans built resorts with thermal health spas, and therapeutic temples thrived during the Greek domain. Ancient Greeks were known for their travels to the sanctuary of the healing god, Asklepios, believed to reveal remedies for different ailments in the dreams. This sanctuary was in fact a small territory in the Saronic Gulf named Epidauria – today considered as the birthplace of medical tourism as we know it.
Asia has a history of medical tourism as well. Japan’s affluence of natural mineral springs (also known as onsen) has represented a favorite health retreat for centuries, and they are also a central feature of Japanese tourism today. These springs are known to have healing powers derived from its mineral content. Different warrior clans also took notice of these springs and used them to heal wounds, alleviate pain and recuperate from their battles.
Modern medical tourism as we know it today has largely been the result of several factors including the high cost of medical care in first world nations, ease of long distance travel, and advances in information technology.


Hall CM. Medical Tourism – The ethics, regulation and marketing of health mobility. 1st ed. Routledge, New York, 2013; pp. 3-27.

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