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Open Access Correspondence

Australian news media framing of medical tourism in low- and middle-income countries: a content review

Michelle Imison1* and Stephen Schweinsberg2

Author Affiliations

1 Sydney School of Public Health, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia

2 Events, Leisure, Sport, Tourism and Arts, Management Discipline Group, University of Technology, Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:109  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-109

Published: 5 February 2013

Abstract

Background

Medical tourism – travel across international borders for health care – appears to be growing globally, with patients from high-income nations increasingly visiting low- and middle-income countries to access such services. This paper analyses Australian television and newspaper news and current affairs coverage to examine how medical tourism and these destinations for the practice are represented to media audiences.

Methods

Electronic copies of Australian television (n = 66) and newspaper (n = 65) items from 2005–2011 about medical care overseas were coded for patterns of reporting (year, format and type) and story characteristics (geographic and medical foci in the coverage, news actors featured and appeals, credibility and risks of the practice mentioned).

Results

Australian media coverage of medical tourism was largely focused on Asia, featuring cosmetic surgery procedures and therapies unavailable domestically. Experts were the most frequently-appearing news actors, followed by patients. Common among the types of appeals mentioned were access to services and low cost. Factors lending credibility included personal testimony, while uncertainty and ethical dilemmas featured strongly among potential risks mentioned from medical tourism.

Conclusions

The Australian media coverage of medical tourism was characterised by a narrow range of medical, geographic and ethical concerns, a focus on individual Australian patients and on content presented as being personally relevant for domestic audiences. Medical tourism was portrayed as an exercise of economically-rational consumer choice, but with no attention given to its consequences for the commodification of health or broader political, medical and ethical implications. In this picture, LMICs were no longer passive recipients of aid but providers of a beneficial service to Australian patients.

Keywords:
Australia; Content analysis; Medical tourism; News media; Newspaper; Television; Low– and middle–income countries