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Edmund Barton Building. Brindabella Ranges. Lovett Tower. Ben Chifley Building. Lake Burley Griffin. Limestone Avenue. Fairbairn Avenue. R G Casey Building. Instead, their major means of establishing credibility was via reference to the number of international patients visiting a country or facility for medical-tourism purposes In addition, the emphasis in any mention of risk was foremost about the procedures themselves — uncertainty This study examined Australian television and print news and current affairs coverage of medical tourism: its type and format, content — the countries, types of procedures and news actors featured — and the extent to which the appeals, credibility and risks of medical tourism were mentioned.
This section considers what messages about medical tourism and its LMIC destination countries were presented in the coverage. The media portrayal of medical tourism reflects several trends identified in earlier research concerning the Australian domestic coverage of both LMICs and their health status [ 8 ]. The newspaper data evidenced somewhat more extensive geographic and medical emphases. Second, the restricted medical, geographic and risk concerns evident in the Australian media coverage of medical tourism were reinforced by its emphasis on identified individuals who had undergone surgery.
Although not all patient news actors had happy experiences to relate, every story that presented medical tourism in a positive light included at least one delighted patient. Third, the high proportion of Australians among all those interviewed mirrors the inclination toward domestic sources in LMIC news more broadly [ 8 ]. There was far less media attention given to those who make certain types of medical tourism possible, such as surrogate mothers and organ donors.
Finally the extent to which the media content sought to establish a sense of personal relevance for audience members, a characteristic that has previously been noted in the Australian coverage of LMIC health [ 8 ], partially explains the patterns of appeals, credibility and risks in the presentation of medical tourism.
Among the newspaper items nearly half mentioned the risk of complications Given the various dimensions of uncertainty surrounding medical tourism, we might assume that potential medical tourists approach this healthcare option with heightened perceptions of its associated risks [ 35 ]. Yet in its presentation of medical tourism, Australian news and current affairs coverage of the practice more often referenced some aspect of the actions of other medical tourists the numbers who take part, and their personal experiences than any reliable medical consideration.
Investigations into the presentation of appeal and risk on medical tourism websites have previously noted that testimonials, a common technique in general advertising and used liberally in this Australian media dataset, are of limited value to would-be medical tourists since they provide no insight into the individual-level differences that might influence medical outcomes [ 35 ]. The mention of diverse and contrasting appeals and risks across the media dataset would appear to reinforce a belief that audiences, as an exercise of their freedom to choose, can make up their own minds.
However, presenting information from sources of varying legitimacy as though they were equally valid might properly be considered a form of bias [ 41 ] and may leave audience members confused as to their best course of action. The television items examined here appeared largely on commercial networks, which are under sustained pressure to produce widely-engaging content at the lowest cost [ 42 ]. It also suggests that this coverage does not merely give an account of the current domestic reality of medical tourism but is also aspirational, demonstrating to a wide and relatively affluent audience why and how they might participate in the practice.
Since our findings showed that both television and newspaper portrayals placed greater emphasis on the appeals than the risks or factors lending credibility to medical tourism, it was perhaps unsurprising that the ethical interest expressed in this coverage was also largely at the level of the individual Australian patient, their experiences and feelings about the process.
Yet as mentioned above medical tourism has huge, potential medical and political consequences for both source and destination countries. Four stories — one on an overseas knee reconstruction and three about cosmetic surgery — mentioned some health-system outcomes, but only insofar as they related to subsequent burdens for Australian healthcare. Presenting medical tourism as simply another option available to the wealthy may inhibit appropriate policy development in source countries as, for example, growing numbers of medical tourists diminish the incentives for governments to expand their domestic health workforces [ 43 ].
Although in recent years private organisations such as the US-based Joint Commission International JCI have accredited health-care facilities in numerous LMICs [ 44 ], medical tourism otherwise remains largely unregulated: Australia and Canada, for instance, have no national health and safety guidelines on patient or practitioner involvement in the practice [ 45 ].
Likewise efforts in destination countries have, to date, been piecemeal: India now has a special medical tourist visa but has otherwise left sectoral regulation to its private medical providers [ 46 ]. Many medical-tourism destinations have less strict medical liability provisions than source countries, restricting patient options for legal recourse and compensation; some medical tourism facilitators include insurance in their prices and patients may take out their own policies [ 10 , 14 ].
Equally instructive in examining the content of any media corpus is the matter of what it does not contain. Cosmetic surgery was, until recent times, reasonably uncommon and presented to media audiences as mainly the province of professionally vain female celebrities, whose medical outcomes were sometimes the occasion for a mixture of bemusement and horror [ 47 ]. This cultural dynamic has clearly shifted. Across the television and newspaper items investigated here, cosmetic surgery was the dominant medical focus, yet never once were the — again, mainly female — patients censured for vanity.
It is also interesting to consider how medical tourism would be presented in the domestic media if the phenomenon looked similar to its LMIC manifestation: namely, small but growing numbers of wealthy overseas patients travelling to Australia for health-care. A recent scoping study, prepared for the Australian government, on inbound medical tourism gives some idea of the perceived benefits from this practice. However, media coverage of the practice for Australian audience presented it as being primarily about long-distance journeys for non-essential, often cosmetic, procedures.
The picture offered in this television and newspaper data of LMICs themselves was similarly distorted: no longer simply passive recipients of external financial and technical assistance these nations were now sources of benefit to Australians, in the form of low-cost, convenient and even enjoyable combinations of health-care and travel. The ambivalence and complexity of LMIC destinations courting medical tourists in national self-interest while, to varying degrees, failing to adequately meet the health-care needs of their own citizens [ 23 ] is a poor fit with the simpler Australian media narrative of individual choice and personal gain.
In addition, many American insurers are moving toward sending patients requiring complex medical procedures offshore in their attempts to reduce the financial burden of employee healthcare [ 19 ]. This growth is significant because, although medical tourism has consequences for both social justice and health equity, what it will mean in the longer term for public health is far from settled. There are several limitations to the current study. Although there was careful and comprehensive quantification of the content categories discussed, this coding could not account for the quality, importance or strength of each of these elements within the television or newspaper items surveyed.
Future studies into the media coverage of medical tourism could usefully address each of these areas by continuing qualitative research with past or potential medical tourists [ 15 ] in order to better understand how elements of appeal, credibility and risk played a part in their choice; and undertaking comparative analysis of similar media datasets from other destination and source countries.
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The present research explored the content of Australian television and newspaper coverage of medical tourism, and the presentation of both medical tourism and its LMIC destinations. It revealed that this portrayal is in line with broader domestic media coverage of LMIC health, with its narrow medical, geographic and ethical foci, and emphases on Australian participants and commentators as the principal actors through whom the medical tourism phenomenon is understood. Within this consumer-focused frame, the patient experience and medical outcome are presented as being of equal importance, and any broader concerns are pushed aside.
As medical tourism to LMICs is increasingly perceived as a viable health-care option for citizens of nations such as Australia, understanding its appeals to audiences will become more important. J Health Polit Polic. Seale C: Health and media: An overview.
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