A Little History of Medical Tourism
Medical tourism is often thought of as a recent phenomenon. The truth, however,
is that people have been traveling long distances to better their health for thousands
of years. Granted, it’s hard to picture a swarthy chieftain traipsing across the
desert on his camel to barter for a nicer set of pearly whites. Were clinics and
hospitals even around that long ago, thousands of years ago?
Archaeological evidence from the third millennium B.C. suggests that ancient Mesopotamians
traveled to the temple of a healing god or goddess at Tell Brak, Syria, in search
of a cure for eye disorders. A few thousand years later the Greeks and Romans would
travel by foot or ship to spas and cult centers all around the Mediterranean. The
Asclepia Temples, dedicated in honor of the Greek god of medicine, were some of
the world's first health centers. Pilgrims would sometimes spend several nights
in the temple, hoping Asclepios would appear in a dream and suggest a diagnosis
Later in the 16th and 17th centuries, spa towns such as St. Moritz and Bath became
prime destinations for the European upper classes looking to soothe their ills.
What kind of “procedures” were the ancients seeking? No butt lifts or hip and knee
replacements, that’s for sure. Many were looking for “healing” waters or the benevolence
of the gods to cure common ailments of the time such as rheumatism, syphilis, gonorrhea,
blindness and paralysis.
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.