Background: Medical tourism is a global health practice where patients travel abroad to receive health care.Voluntourism is a practice where physicians travel abroad to deliver health care. Both of these practices often entailtravel from high income to low and middle income countries and both have been associated with possiblenegative impacts. In this paper, we explore the social responsibilities of medical tourists and voluntourists toidentify commonalities and distinctions that can be used to develop a wider understanding of social responsibilityin global health care practices. Discussion: Social responsibility is a responsibility to promote the welfare of the communities to which onebelongs or with which one interacts. Physicians stress their social responsibility to care for the welfare of theirpatients and their domestic communities. When physicians choose to travel to another county to provide medicalcare, this social responsibility is expanded to this new community. Patients too have a social responsibility to usetheir community’s health resources efficiently and to promote the health of their community. When these patientschoose to go abroad to receive medical care, this social responsibility applies to the new community as well. Whilevoluntourists and medical tourists both see the scope of their social responsibilities expand by engaging in theseglobal practices, the social responsibilities of physician voluntourists are much better defined than those of medicaltourists. Guidelines for engaging in ethical voluntourism and training for voluntourists still need betterdevelopment, but medical tourism as a practice should follow the lead of voluntourism by developing clearernorms for ethical medical tourism. Summary: Much can be learned by examining the social responsibilities of medical tourists and voluntouristswhen they engage in global health practices. While each group needs better guidance for engaging in responsibleforms of these practices, patients are at a disadvantage in understanding the effects of medical tourism andorganizing responses to these impacts. Members of the medical professions and the medical tourism industry musttake responsibility for providing better guidance for medical tourists.
Snyder et al. Globalization and Health 2011, 7:6
Globalization and Health
Fly-By Medical Care: Conceptualizing the Global and Local Social Responsibilities of Medical Tourists and Physician Voluntourists
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