Founded in 2009, the SFU Medical Tourism Group has quickly established itself as a research leader on this emerging issue.
With an eye to fill in knowledge gaps in an unregulated and often controversial industry, Simon Fraser University researchers formed the SFU Medical Tourism Group in 2009 which quickly established itself as a research leader on this topic. The group aims to help the public consider the pros and cons of engaging in the practice of medical tourism.
The team actively mobilizes its research findings into public and policy circles to enable more ethical, equitable, and safe practices in an industry where clients usually pay out-of-pocket for interventions that can include: necessary surgeries, cosmetic surgeries, reproductive treatments, organ transplantation, and experimental treatments such as stem cell transfers or CCSVI treatment for multiple sclerosis.
The group has done an outstanding job at translating these findings into aids for the public and their website features over two dozen fact sheets that provide key information from the team’s studies and analyses. These fact sheets range from profiles of the medical tourism sector in countries such as Mexico, Guatemala and Jamaica, to information about ethical issues in the industry in general. Other channels, including Twitter and Facebook, are also used to best reach families and communities.
“In my fieldwork, I’ve seen first-hand the negative outcomes of some of the types of policies and practice I study,” says team member Dr. Valorie Crooks. “I’m driven to ensure that these harms are not replicated elsewhere.”
In 2012, a journalist was permitted to embed herself into the team under a CIHR Journalism Award. Thanks to this award, CBC Radio's Debbie Wilson enabled the team to rapidly distribute new research findings directly to media and to the public. Wilson interviewed the researchers and their collaborators for a CBC radio documentary about Mexico’s growing medical tourism industry.
Emerging research like this from the SFU group is enabling a better global understanding of complex issues faced by patients, industry stakeholders, physicians, and policymakers and has become a trusted and approachable source of non-industry based information about medical tourism. Until industry regulations are put into place, their research is helping to mitigate potential risks and is enhancing practices such as informed consent.
“Research like ours gives voice to the experiences of Canadians who have opted to seek care abroad,” say Dr. Crooks. “While media reports often focus on the sensational aspects of medical tourism, the people we speak with remind us that the costs and consequences of accessing care abroad are real and at times quite far reaching.”
Dr. Valorie Crooks has been a faculty member in the Department of Geography at Simon Fraser University since 2006. She currently holds both the Canada Research Chair in Health Service Geographies and a Scholar Award from the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research. A health geographer by training, she is interested in the spatial and place-based dimensions of health and health care.
Q & A with Valorie Crooks
If you could sum up the value of university research in one word what would it be?
What motivates you as a researcher?
There are three things that really motivate me as a researcher. First, as a qualitative researcher, I get to hear so many fascinating things in the interviews and focus groups I conduct. In many ways, I feel an obligation to those who shared them with me to let others know about what I've learned. Second, I conduct research in many countries and in my fieldwork I have had the opportunity to see first-hand the negative outcomes of some of the types of policies and practices I study and I am driven to ensure that these harms are not replicated elsewhere. I view my research as one channel through which such dialogue can take place. Finally, and probably like most of my colleagues, I am a naturally curious person!
How important is collaboration in advancing research?
For me, collaboration is everything. Being able to see a single issue from the viewpoints of my collaborators has greatly enhanced the research I am involved in. Also, collaboration allows me to meaningfully involve people from other countries in my research and to learn from other disciplines, both of which are highly rewarding.