SEOUL (Reuters) - It is one of Asia's fastest growing industries and shows no signs of losing steam even as the global economy wobbles.
Traveling abroad for medical treatment is now a multi-billion dollar business.
From a nip-and-tuck to a heart bypass, hospitals from India to Singapore and South Korea treat more than 1 million foreign patients a year—lured by cut-price surgery, no waiting lists, cutting-edge technology and highly trained doctors.
Industry experts predict medical tourism in Asia will grow at a rate of 15 to 20 percent a year, mainly due to the emergence of nouveaux riches in the region.
"Asian medical tourism...seems to be increasing as affluence and mobility increase in Asia," said David Vequist, head of the Center for Medical Tourism Research at the University of the Incarnate Word in Texas.
"Consumer choice is a powerful force now in healthcare and is impacted by aging and increasingly heavier, sicker and more needy populations in Asia."
Medscape News website has forecast medical tourism in Asia could generate $4.4 billion by 2012.
The United States provides the most patients, as Americans travel abroad to avert the astronomical costs of having private treatment at home. Typically, Americans can save 40-50 percent.
But there is a new patient on the operating table, and he or she is Chinese. Many of these patients are willing to spend what it takes to fix their problem.
"No matter how expensive it is, I will go for it," said Liu Xiao-yang, 34, of Shanghai, after having double-eyelid surgery, a facelift and corrective jaw surgery in Seoul.