Monday, 1 December 2014

Special issue in Social Science and Medicine on transnational health care

David Bell, Ruth Holliday, Meghann Ormond and Tomas Mainil edited a special issue for the journal Social Science and Medicine on transnational health care. This special issue will be released in January 2015 and comprises a collection of papers resulting from the conference we organised in June 2013: Transnational Health Care: A Cross-Border Symposium

Papers published in the special issue include:

  • Bell, David, Holliday, Ruth, Ormond, Meghann and Mainil, Tomas - 'Introduction: Transnational health care, cross-border perspectives' -
    • Growing numbers of people are going abroad in pursuit of healthcare, and the social, political and economic significance of these flows at a range of levels cannot be ignored. This special issue brings together papers from a key international conference held in June 2013, Transnational Healthcare: a Cross-border Symposium – an event that was itself transnational, with hosting shared by institutions in two countries: first in Wageningen, The Netherlands, with delegates then travelling to Leeds, UK, for further presentations and discussion. The aim of this symposium was consider the impacts of ‘medical tourism’ in a range of different contexts, and it brought together scholars involved in cutting-edge empirical and conceptual studies of the transnational pursuit and provision of medical care. It included findings from small-scale as well as large, multi-site research projects. In this introduction, we outline the articles’ main themes and highlight priorities and agendas for the vital shared project of empirically and conceptually investigating the multi-scalar relational geographies -- from the macro/national to the local/embodied – that are currently transforming policies, economies, professions and patient experiences of what some scholars suggest might more appropriately be called ‘international medical travel’ (Kangas 2007) or ‘transnational healthcare practices’ (Stan, this issue) instead of ‘medical tourism’. In recognition of the array of initiatives around the world that challenge and move beyond attempts at self-sufficiency in healthcare at the national level, this special issue draws attention to the breadth of regional capacity-building, forms of governance, relations and identities forged through both high-profile, long-distance pursuits of ‘medical tourists’ and more ‘everyday’ cross-border and intra-regional health-motivated flows (Ormond 2013b). The diversity of case studies presented in the special issue is intended to reflect the many forms of movement that together constitute transnational healthcare practices (though there remains much work to fully map these practices). In the remainder of this introduction, we draw out some of the themes and issues raised in the papers that prompt us to rethink ‘medical tourism’

  • Bochaton, Audrey - 'Cross-border mobility and social mobility: Laotians seeking medical treatment along the Thai border' -
    • Drawing upon research conducted on cross-border patients living in Laos and seeking care in Thailand, this paper examines the important role played by social networks in patients' decision-making and on the itineraries they choose to seek treatment on the Thai side of the border. Due to the vastly contrasting situations between the two countries in terms of healthcare supply, and considering Laotians' increasing demand for high quality healthcare, a number of them have managed to satisfy their needs by combining cross-border treatment with the use of the healthcare facilities provided by their own country. This study consisted first of household surveys conducted in five border areas (2006–2007) in Laos in order to quantify and map out cross-border healthcare-related travel patterns. Afterwards, interviews were conducted with cross-border patients (55), Laotian and Thai medical doctors (6), Thai social workers (5), and officials working in public institutions (12). While socioeconomic and spatial factors partly explain cross-border mobility, patients' social networks significantly influence treatment itineraries throughout the decision-making process, including logistical and financial considerations. The social networks existing at different geographical levels (neighbourhood, regional and global) are therefore a powerful analytical tool not only for understanding the emergence of these cross-border movements but also for justifying them in an authoritarian political environment such as Lao PDR's.
  • Connell, John - 'From medical tourism to transnational health care? An epilogue for the future' -
    • In the past two decades, medical tourism has seemed to define cross-border travel for medical care. An ebullient expression of late capitalism, in the heady days before the Global Financial Crisis it also seemed remarkably glamorous. Most accounts of medical tourism, certainly in the popular media, centre on cosmetic changes, often dramatic, sometimes problematic, but capable of transforming lives (Jones 2008). Yet, as this special issue has well demonstrated, much of medical tourism is quite prosaic and functional, and transnational health care is very much more than simply medical tourism. These papers have combined to add significantly to collective knowledge of international medical travel, reveal its diversity, and develop an agenda for the future.
  • Crush, Jonathan and Abel Chikanda - 'South-South medical tourism and the quest for health in Southern Africa’ –
    • Intra-regional South-South medical tourism is a vastly understudied subject despite its significance in many parts of the Global South. This paper takes issue with the conventional notion of South Africa purely as a high-end “surgeon and safari” destination for medical tourists from the Global North. It argues that South-South movement to South Africa for medical treatment is far more significant, numerically and financially, than North-South movement. The general lack of access to medical diagnosis and treatment in SADC countries has led to a growing temporary movement of people across borders to seek help at South African institutions in border towns and in the major cities. These movements are both formal (institutional) and informal (individual) in nature. In some cases, patients go to South Africa for procedures that are not offered in their own countries. In others, patients are referred by doctors and hospitals to South African facilities. But the majority of the movement is motivated by lack of access to basic healthcare at home. The high demand and large informal flow of patients from countries neighbouring South Africa has prompted the South African government to try and formalise arrangements for medical travel to its public hospitals and clinics through inter-country agreements in order to recover the cost of treating non-residents. The danger, for ‘disenfranchised’ medical tourists who fall outside these agreements, is that medical xenophobia in South Africa may lead to increasing exclusion and denial of treatment. Medical tourism in this region and South-South medical tourism in general are areas that require much additional research.
  • Hanefeld, Johanna, Neil Lunt, Richard Smith and Daniel Horsfall - 'Why do medical tourists travel to where they do? The role of networks in determining medical travel' -
    • Evidence on medical tourism, including patient motivation, is increasing. Existing studies have focused on identifying push and pull factors across different types of treatment, for example cosmetic or bariatric surgery, or on groups, such as diaspora patients returning 'home' for treatment. Less attention has been on why individuals travel to specific locations or providers and on how this decision is made. The paper focused on the role of networks, defined as linkages e formal and informal e between individual providers, patients and facilitators to explain why and where patients travel. Findings are based on a recently completed, two year research project, which examined the effects of medical tourism on the UK NHS. Research included in-depth interviews with 77 returning medical tourists and over sixty managers, medical travel facilitators, clinicians and providers of medical tourism in recipient countries to understand the medical tourism industry. Interviews were conducted between 2011 and 2012, recorded and transcribed, or documented through note taking. Authors undertook a thematic analysis of interviews to identify treatment pathways by patients, and professional linkages between clinicians and facilitators to understand choice of treatment destination. The results highlight that across a large sample of patients travelling for a variety of conditions from dental treatment, cosmetic and bariatric surgery, through to specialist care the role of networks is critical to understand choice of treatment, provider and destination. While distance, costs, expertise and availability of treatment all were factors influencing patients' decision to travel, choice of destination and provider was largely the result of informal networks, including web fora, personal recommendations and support groups. Where patients were referred by UK clinicians or facilitators these followed informal networks. In conclusion, investigating medical travel through focus on networks of patients and providers opens up novel conception of medical tourism, deepening understanding of patterns of travel by combining investigation of industry with patient motivation.
  • Holliday, Ruth, David Bell, Olive Cheung, Meredith Jones and Elspeth Probyn - 'Brief encounters: Assembling cosmetic surgery tourism' - 
    • This paper reports findings from a large-scale, multi-disciplinary, mixed methods project which explores empirically and theoretically the rapidly growing but poorly understood (and barely regulated) phenomenon of cosmetic surgery tourism (CST). We explore CST by drawing on theories of flows, networks and assemblages, aiming to produce a fuller and more nuanced account of e and accounting for e CST. This enables us to conceptualise CST as an interplay of places, people, things, ideas and practices. Through specific instances of assembling cosmetic surgery that we encountered in the field, and that we illustrate with material from interviews with patients, facilitators and surgeons, our analysis advances understandings and theorisations of medical mobilities, globalisation and assemblage thinking.
  • Lozanski, Kristin - 'Transnational surrogacy: Canada's contradictions' 
    • Transnational commercial surrogacy represents a form of medical tourism undertaken byintended parents who seek to hire women in other countries, increasingly often in the global South, as surrogates. While much of the scholarly literature focuses on the conditions of surrogacy within host countries, such as India, there has been limited analysis of transnational surrogacy focused upon origin countries. In this article, I build upon the scholarship that explores the impact of host country structures on transnational surrogacy, with special attention to the significance of Canadian citizenship policy through analysis of legislation and policy vis-à-vis transnational commercial surrogacy. The Canadian case demonstrates clear contradictions between the legislation and policy that is enacted domestically to prohibit commercial surrogacy within Canada and legislation and policy that implicitly sanctions commercial surrogacy through the straightforward provision of citizenship for children born of such arrangements abroad. The ethical underpinnings of Canada's domestic prohibition of commercial surrogacy, which is presumed to exploit women and children and to impede gender equality, are violated in Canada's bureaucratic willingness to accept children born of transnational commercial surrogacy as citizens. Thus, the ethical discourses apply only to Canadian citizens within Canadian geography. The failure of the Canadian government to hold Canadian citizens who participate in transnational commercial surrogacy to the normative imperatives that prohibit the practice within the country, or to undertake a more nuanced, and necessarily controversial, discussion of commercial surrogacy reinforces transnational disparities in terms of whose bodies may be commodified as a measure of gendered inequality.
  • Lunt, Neil, Mark Exworthy, Johanna Hanefeld and Richard D. Smith - 'International patients within the NHS: A case of public sector entrepreneurialism' -
    • Many public health systems in high- and middle-income countries are under increasing financial pressures as a result of ageing populations, a rise in chronic and non-communicable diseases and shrinking public resources. At the same time the rise in patient mobility and concomitant market in medical tourism provides opportunities for additional income. This is especially the case where public sector hospitals have a reputation as global centres of excellence. Yet, this requires public sector entrepreneurship which, given the unique features of the public sector, means a change to professional culture. This paper examines how and under what conditions public sector entrepreneurship develops, drawing on the example of international patients in the UK NHS. It reports on a subset of data from a wider study of UK medical tourism, and explores inward flows and NHS responses through the lens of public entrepreneurship. Interviews in the English NHS were conducted with managers of Foundation Trusts with interest in international patient work. Data is from seven Foundation Trusts, based on indepth, semi-structured interviews with a range of NHS managers, and three other key stakeholders (n ¼ 16). Interviews were analysed using a framework on entrepreneurship developed from academic literature. Empirical findings showed that Trust managers were actively pursuing a strategy of expanding international patient activity. Respondents emphasised that this was in the context of the current financial climate for the NHS. International patients were seen as a possible route to ameliorating pressure on stretched NHS resources. The analysis of interviews revealed that public entrepreneurial behaviour requires an organisational managerial or political context in order to develop, such as currently in the UK. Public sector workers engaged in this process develop entrepreneurship - melding political, commercial and stakeholder insights - as a coping mechanism to health system constraints.
  • Ormond, Meghann – ‘Solidarity by demand? Exit and voice in international medical travel – The case of Indonesia’ -
    • Globally, more patients are intentionally travelling abroad as consumers for medical care. However, while scholars have begun to examine international medical travel's (IMT) impacts on the people and places that receive medical travellers, study of its impacts on medical travellers' home contexts has been negligible and largely speculative. While proponents praise IMT's potential to make home health systems more responsive to the needs of market-savvy healthcare consumers, critics identify it as away to further de-politicise the satisfaction of healthcare needs. This article draws from work on political consumerism, health advocacy and social movements to argue for a reframing of IMT not as a 'one-off' statement about or an event external to struggles over access, rights and recognition within medical travellers' home health systems but rather as one of a range of critical forms of on-going engagement embedded within these struggles. To do this, the limited extant empirical work addressing domestic impacts of IMT is reviewed and a case study of Indonesian medical travel to Malaysia is presented. The case study material draws from 85 interviews undertaken in 2007-08 and 2012 with Indonesian and Malaysian respondents involved in IMT as care recipients, formal and informal care-providers, intermediaries, promoters and policy-makers. Evidence from the review and case study suggests that IMT may effect political and social change within medical travellers' home contexts at micro and macro levels by altering the perspectives, habits, expectations and accountability of, and complicity among, medical travellers, their families, communities, formal and informal intermediaries, and medical providers both within and beyond the container of the nation-state. Impacts are conditioned by the ideological foundations underpinning home political and social systems, the status of a medical traveller's ailment or therapy, and the existence of organised support for recognition and management of these in the home context.
  • Stan, Sabina - 'Transnational healthcare practices of Romanian migrants in Ireland: Inequalities of access and the privatisation of healthcare services in Europe'
    • This article deals with the transnational healthcare practices of Central and Eastern European migrants in Europe, taking the case of Romanian migrants in Ireland. It explores the implications of migrants’ transnational healthcare practices for the transformation of citizenship in Europe, more particularly in terms of access to free public healthcare. The article places these practices in the larger perspective of global care chains, seen as including transnational flows of healthcare seekers and healthcare workers that link distant healthcare systems in an emerging European healthcare assemblage. The study adopted a holistic perspective, taking into account both formal and informal practices, as well as the use of healthcare services in both the host and the origin countries of migrants. These were explored during multi-sited fieldwork in Romania and Ireland, conducted between 2012 and 2013, and combining a variety of sources and methods (semi-structured interviews, informal conversations, documentary analysis, etc.). The article explores the links between migrants’ transnational healthcare practices and two other important processes: 1) inequalities in access to healthcare services in migrants’ countries of origin and of destination; and 2) the contribution of healthcare privatisation to these inequalities. It shows that Romanian migrants’ transnational healthcare practices function as strategies of social mobility for migrants, while also reflecting the increasing privatisation of healthcare services in Ireland and Romania. The article argues that these processes are far from specific to Ireland, Romania, and the migration flows uniting them. Rather, they draw our attention to the rise of an unevenly developed European healthcare assemblage and citizenship regime in which patients’ movements across borders are closely interlinked with diminishing and increasingly unequal access to public healthcare services.
  • Volgger, Michael, Tomas Mainil, Harald Pechlaner and Ondrej Mitas - 'Health region development from the perspective of system theory – an empirical cross-regional case study' -
    • Governments are increasingly establishing health regions to deal with current challenges of public health service. These regions are seen as instruments to balance public and private stakeholders, and offer health care to regional citizens as well as to medical/health tourists. However, it is still unclear how the development of such health regions as well as their governance may be conceptualized. We apply Luhmann’s system theory approach in the context of a cross-regional case study that compares health region developments in the Autonomous Province of Bolzano-South Tyrol (Italy) with particular regard to the Eastern Dolomites and in the province of Zeeland (the Netherlands). We suggest that Luhmann’s system theory provides a useful set of criteria to evaluate and judge health region development. Fully developed health regions can be understood as auto-poietic systems. By emphasizing programs, personnel, and communication channels, these case studies illustrate the suitability of the system theory toolset to analyze the governance and spatial embeddedness of health regions. Additionally, the study contributes to literature by indicating that health regions are closely related to identity issues and to decision making in regions.
  • Walton-Roberts, Margaret - 'International migration of health professionals and the marketization and privatization of education in India: From push-pull to global political economy' -
    • Health worker migration theories have tended to focus on labour market conditions as principal push or pull factors. The role of education systems in producing internationally oriented health workers has been less explored. In place of the traditional conceptual approaches to understanding health worker, especially nurse, migration, I advocate global political economy (GPE) as a perspective that can highlight how educational investment and global migration tendencies are increasing interlinked. The Indian case illustrates the globally oriented nature of health care training, and informs a broader understanding of both the process of health worker migration, and how it reflects wider marketization tendencies evident in India's education and health systems. The Indian case also demonstrates how the global orientation of education systems in source regions is increasingly central to comprehending the place of health workers in the global and Asian rise in migration. The paper concludes that Indian corporate health care training systems are increasingly aligned with the production of professionals orientated to globally integrated health human resource labour markets, and our conceptual analysis of such processes must effectively reflect these tendencies.
  • Whittaker, Andrea and Chee Heng Leng - 'Perceptions of an "international" hospital in Thailand by medical travel patients: Cross-cultural tensions in a transnational space'
    • The growing trade in patients seeking health care in other countries, or medical travel, is changing the forms and experiences of health care seeking and producing changes to hospitals in terms of their design, organization and spaces. What is termed in marketing parlance in Thailand as an international hospital oriented to attracting foreign patients, is a hotel-hospital hybrid that is locally produced through the inflexion of local practices to make a therapeutic space for international patients. The paper reports on work undertaken within a Thai hospital in 2012 which included observations and interviews with thirty foreign in-patients and nine informal interviews with hospital staff. Although theorized as a culturally neutral transnational space of connectivity, we show how cross-cultural tensions affect the experience of the hospital with implications for the organization of the hospital and notions of cultural competence in care. There is no single universal experience of this space, instead, there are multiple experiences of the international hospital, depending on who patients are, where they are from, their expectations and relationships. Such hospitals straddle the expectations of both local patients and international clientele and present highly complex cross-cultural interactions between staff and patients but also between patients and other patients. Spatial organisation within such settings may either highlight cultural difference or help create culturally safe spaces.