BEIJING, July 21 (Xinhuanet) -- Medical tourism, once the exclusive preserve of the rich, is growing and changing as hospitals and clinics offer farflung patients advantages hard to come by at home－whether it be high-tech therapy, less-expensive care or alternative treatments.
In China, home to a growing number of traveling patients, more foreign medical tourists are seeking care either to save money or for such treatments as traditional Chinese medicine.
"In European countries such as Turkey and Cyprus, more than half of people are not covered by public insurance, so Chinese medical institutions have big opportunities," says Li Jingwen, general manager in Beijing for McBridge, a medical business consultant with offices in China and Germany.
At the same time, outbound tourists from China are starting to go for hospitals and clinics in many developed countries.
They are showing up not just with shopping bags and cameras, but also in increasing numbers with their medical records in countries like South Korea, Singapore, Europe and the United States.
They are filling hospital beds and surgical suites for treatments as diverse as plastic surgery, extensive checkups and cancer treatment.
A significant number of these medical tourists are wealthy Chinese who are bolstering the bottom line of hospitals and clinics by paying cash for high-end treatment. Medical centers are welcoming them, in some cases with services such as tailored menus.
The Korea Tourism Organization says that last year nearly 400,000 people flew to South Korea for cosmetic surgery, Chinese being the biggest number among them. After having surgery done on their eyelids or noses, they go sightseeing and shopping.
In Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Europe and the US an increasing number of Chinese patients are turning up for anti-aging therapy, cancer screening and treatment, giving birth or chronic-disease treatment.
About 60,000 Chinese have gone abroad every year to seek medical services in recent years, says the Shanghai Medical Tourism Products and Promotion Platform.
A McKinsey & Co report estimates that the global medical tourism market has been growing by 20 percent a year. In 2000, global medical tourism was valued at less than $10 billion and last year it was almost 10 times that.
Europe's aging population has led to the further development of the medical care industry, Li says. In Germany, those 65 or older are more than 10 percent of the population, and people's average spending on medical service is growing by 2 percent every year.
"As society ages, overall consciousness of health is growing," she says. "Good facilities and services attract Chinese upper middle class to get treatment there."
Germany has a mature industry train and a basket of services for overseas tourists seeking medical treatment, Li says.
"In some hospitals, they provide prayer rooms, home country menus and dormitories for the traveling relatives."