Promoting medical tourism to India: Messages, images, and the marketing of international patient travel

Valorie A. Crooks, Leigh Turner, Jeremy Snyder, Rory Johnston, Paul Kingsbury

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

126 Scopus citations

Abstract

The practice of medical tourism depends on successfully informing potential patients about procedure options, treatment facilities, tourism opportunities, travel arrangements, and destination countries. The promotion of medical tourism includes a wide range of marketing materials such as flyers, booklets, and websites. Yet, there is a paucity of knowledge about the dissemination, content, and reception of these promotional materials. Drawing on a thematic content analysis of the promotional print material distributed at the first medical tourism trade show in Canada in 2009, the main purpose of this article is to identify and understand the messages and images that companies use to market India as a global destination. While researchers and news media frequently cite low cost procedures as a key determinant for international patient travel, particularly to developing nations, our analysis reveals few low cost-related images or messages in the promotional materials distributed at the trade show. To help explain this surprising disjuncture, we consider four related issues: (1) promotional materials may be designed to be circulated amongst potential patients' concerned family and friends who privilege knowing about things such as the use of advanced technologies; (2) developing nations need to portray safe and advanced treatment facilities in order to dispel potential patients' suspicions that their medical care is inferior; (3) companies may avoid making cost saving claims that cannot be fulfilled for all of their international patients, especially those traveling from developing nations; and (4) messages of low cost may detract from and even undermine messages about quality. We conclude by identifying numerous avenues for future research by social and health scientists, and by considering the implications of our findings for existing knowledge gaps and debates within health geography specifically.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)726-732
Number of pages7
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Volume72
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2011

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
In November, 2009 the first trade show promoting medical tourism to Canadians took place in Toronto, Ontario. This show, named India: Medical Tourism Destination 2009, was sponsored by the Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce, the Government of India’s Ministry of Tourism, and the Toronto-based Consulate General of India. The trade show was run by Surgical Tourism Canada Inc., a Canadian medical tourism facilitation/brokerage company. In the remainder of the article we focus on this event and the promotional materials that were distributed to attendees in order to assist with gaining an initial, critical understanding of how medical tourism is being promoted to international patients. This analysis, thus, contributes to building a larger understanding of how the medical tourism industry operates, and in doing so provides useful insights for social and health science researchers interested in examining this specific global health service practice. In the section that follows we offer an overview of the trade show and provide much needed context for our analysis. We next characterize the breadth of brochures, booklets, and flyers distributed to potential medical tourists and other attendees. Thematic content analysis of the messages and images contained within the promotional materials reveals an important disjuncture: while the low cost of procedures abroad is often cited as a primary motivation for patients’ engagement in medical tourism, there was little discussion or imagery related to this in the reviewed materials. Seeking to make sense of this finding, we move to consider four possible explanations for why such images and messages were not as prominently featured in the promotional materials circulated at the trade show as was expected on the basis of our review of the medical tourism literature.

Funding Information:
Our thanks to BJC and BJC for obtaining one of the two sets of promotional materials examined in this analysis. This research has been funded by a Catalyst Grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research .

Copyright:
Copyright 2011 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.

Keywords

  • Advertising
  • Canada
  • Globalization
  • India
  • Marketing
  • Medical tourism
  • Thematic content analysis
  • Trade in health services

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