By Gemma Greenwood
The International Medical Travel Association seeks to represent the interests of medical tourism travellers and the medical travel industry.
The burgeoning medical tourism sector will be now be regulated following the introduction of the International Medical Travel Association (IMTA).
Formed by medical tourism experts in some of the key locations visited by medical travellers - Thailand, Singapore, India and Malaysia - the IMTA aims to represent the interests of customers and the medical travel industry itself, included healthcare providers and medical travel facilitators.
The creation of the new body will come as good news to the Middle East's medical tourists and travel trade, as an increasing number of travellers from this region are heading overseas each year in search of medical treatment.
"The medical traveller is first and foremost a patient and deserves to be treated and respected as one. The mission of the IMTA is to bring together the healthcare and travel industries as stakeholders in medical travel, and to build an economically sustainable, excellent and ethical medical travel industry," said Dr Steven Tucker, president of the IMTA and medical dof the West Clinic Excellence Cancer Centre, Singapore.
"IMTA intends to protect the integrity of the care provider-patient relationship, to ultimately and most importantly protect the interests of the travelling patient."
Asia's medical tourism industry is estimated to be worth more than US $4 billion by 2012 and according to market research company Abacus International, the lure of low-cost, high quality healthcare in Asia attracts more than 1.3 million tourists annually to Thailand, Singapore, India, and Malaysia.
Many hospitals, particularly in Thailand, have wised up to the number of Middle East travellers requiring their services, and some now offer wings dedicated to the Arabic market, manned by Arabic-speaking staff.
The call for a regulatory association such as IMTA was made by Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) last year, which during its annual conference, highlighted the "disturbing trend" that some travellers and medical travel providers viewed medical tourism simply an extension of the tourism industry.
Speakers at the conference claimed patients were choosing their doctors and hospitals from web sites without the advice of their own doctors, and travelling without adequate preparation.