Even for experts in medical and wellness tourism, like Dr. Laszlo Puczko, the distinction between the two sectors is not clear. Dr. Puczko is the managing director of Resources for Leisure Assets, a consultancy based in Budapest. He also founded the Tourism Observatory for Health, Wellness and Spa, a global intelligence resource for the health travel industry.
“We don’t really have a clear definition of what contains what,” says Dr. Puczko, an internationally recognized leader in the spa and wellness development and management industry.
The overlap of the two sectors is particularly easy to see in the communications used by service providers to consumers. Providers are using the two terms-medical and wellness- interchangeably and arbitrarily making it difficult for consumers to determine which services are being offered.
To reduce confusion, Laszlo offers these two distinctions. In general, there are three major elements to identify “medical travel”: 1) Is it an invasive or noninvasive treatment? 2) Is it voluntary, such as cosmetic surgery, or necessary treatment prescribed by a doctor? 3) Is it a therapeutic service or a more conventional hospital/clinical service? Services that are invasive, necessary, and conventional hospital or clinical based are considered “medical travel”.
This confusion between wellness and medical travel can lead to certain risks such as complications during a procedure. The possibility of something going wrong in the medical travel sector is often deemphasized or ignored. “If you don’t like your coffee you go to the next café and you buy another coffee. If you don’t like your root canal you don’t go to another dentist and buy a new root canal. It’s a completely different market,” says Laszlo. By labeling a service as “medical”, prospective patients are more likely to understand that there is some element of risk involved and that the credentials of the person offering the service should be considered.
The lack of developing academia and educational courses pertaining to the medical travel field is one reason there is confusion between the two sectors. Dr. Puczko says that he knows very few colleagues worldwide that have more than two years of academic experience in relation to the industry. More recently there have been journals published and academic conferences serving people working in the sector, which will lead to a clearer definition of medical and wellness tourism.
Dr. Puczko’s research and consulting work in the wellness sector seeks to provide the fact-based direction needed for service providers to better inform consumers about their services.