The history of medical tourism

The history of medical tourism

12.08.2020 3017

Travel experience has a long history for health and medical reasons. Even ancient cultures were aware of the healing effects of mineral thermal springs and sacred temple baths.  According to archeological excavations, the Sumerians established ancient treatment centers around thermal springs. It was discovered that during the Bronze Age people were treated with mineral water in the area known as St.Moritz in modern-day Switzerland and drank it to protect their health. According to sources in Egypt, people in ancient Egypt traveled long distances to medical centers in order to find a cure.

The ancient Greeks were the first to create a modern form of medical tourism network. In honor of the god of medicine Asclepius, the Greeks built the temple of Asclepius, which became some of the world's first health centers.

People from all over the world traveled to this temple for treatment. In India, medical tourism began to flourish with the popularity of yoga and Ayuverda medicine. Healing travelers and spiritual students flocked to India to see the benefits of these alternative therapies. After Rome became a global power, several hot water baths and thermal springs appeared and gained popularity among the elite. With the fall of Roman civilization, Asia began to function as a major medical tourism destination for health travelers. The temples gave way to hospitals serving travelers seeking treatment. In medieval Japan, hot mineral springs called "onsen" became popular due to their healing properties. Warring clans, realizing the healing value of these springs, began to use them to relieve pain and heal wounds. 

In many early Islamic cultures, health care systems were established to serve foreigners. Al-Mansuri, built in Cairo in 1248 AD, became the largest and most developed hospital of the time. The 8,000-person hospital was a popular medical center for every foreigner, regardless of race or religion.

The period and the post-Renaissance included not only the development of art and culture, but also medical tourism. The word SPA, which derives its origin from the word "Salude Par Aqua", began to appear at this time and cover a large part of medical tourism.

During the 1900s, however, the areas where medical tourism flourished changed direction. Thus, starting from the 1980s, prices in the field of medicine began to rise. As a result, people turned to more affordable areas for treatment.

At that time, thousands of Americans traveled to Costa Rica for dental services. This situation began to worry the United States, and although it tried to balance the situation, the attempts were unsuccessful. After Thailand's currency collapsed in 1997, the government set a goal to increase the country's revenue from medical tourism. They started by claiming that they were a country suitable for plastic surgery, and Thailand soon gained popularity in this field. Currently, Thailand is one of the most preferred regions in medical tourism. 

As for the latest medical tourism statistics, the top 10 medical tourism countries in 2019 are as follows:

  1. Thailand
  2. Malaysia
  3. Singapore
  4. India
  5. Turkey
  6. Germany
  7. Hungary
  8. Mexico
  9. Brazil
  10. USA

In another English-language source, the ranking is slightly different:


  1. Thailand
  2. India
  3. Brazil
  4. Malaysia
  5. Turkey
  6. Mexico
  7. Costa Rica
  8. Taiwan
  9. South Korea
  10. Singapore


In general, the countries in both ranks are areas where medical tourism is developing and where future development is likely to accelerate.


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