Medical tourism startups seek patients willing to travel for major surgeries

The burgeoning medical tourism industry — valued at $68 billion in 2016 by PwC — is expected to nearly double by 2021 as startups work to woo patients to travel for major surgeries, according to a report from Bloomberg.

The industry was built primarily on patients seeking lower prices for cosmetic surgery or dental work abroad, but its growth hinges on hurdling a cultural barrier among patients, many of whom are not yet comfortable with getting a knee replacement or undergoing heart surgery in a foreign country, according to the report.

However, the startups see this as a major part of their future business. Ugur Samut, the co-founder of Berlin-based medical tourism startup Medigo GmbH, told Bloomberg he expects "critical illness treatments" to account for 80 percent of business within the next five years. It currently accounts for about 30 percent of his business, which has served roughly 125,000 patients.

Others are working to streamline the care process from end to end. One such startup, called BookDoc, is partnering with known tech companies like TripAdvisor, Agoda, Airbnb, Uber and Grab to coordinate accommodations and transportation for patients seeking care abroad.

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