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Soon we may find retirement and health care in unexpected places

Earlier this year, I visited a longtime friend in Japan who I’d not seen for 20 years. He was a former senior executive for a large Japanese firm. Now in his 80s, he and his wife are still in relatively good health, but I was concerned that things might change and I’d regret not visiting.

While I was there, we talked about their concern about what comes next. Their children are not in a position to take them into their homes, so what do they do if they need medical or other assistance in the future? They were concerned that retirement centers and assisted living facilities in Japan are expensive and not as plentiful as in the U.S.

Back on this side of the ocean, I read that we are on path of serious concern for our own aging population. Geriatrics in the U.S. is one of the few medical fields that is not growing fast enough for the demand, as baby boomers (and their parents) increasingly need the services of trained specialists. We’ll need creative ideas to handle this problem.

With those two bits of information in the back of my head, I encountered a possible — and to me unexpected — possible solution on a recent trip, back on the other side of the Pacific Ocean.

I recently returned from a week in Hanoi, Vietnam, where I read and heard about the dramatic improvements in health care in the country. Some procedures, like liver transplants, are receiving praise even from outside of the country. Further, Vietnam has begun to receive more attention as a retirement destination for foreigners, as Thailand and Costa Rica have been for years.

So I was intrigued to hear that a Japanese firm may build a retirement center in Vietnam for Japanese clients, because of the improving medical care and the inexpensive work force in Vietnam.

I wonder: Will Vietnam become the next retirement and health care center of choice in Asia?

Thailand has long benefited from medical tourism. Can Vietnam be far behind for U.S. baby boomers? What will it mean to “outsource” retirement and assisted living in the future?

Nancy Napier is distinguished professor, Boise State University, column appears in the Oct. 19-Nov. 15, 2016, edition of the Idaho Statesman’s Business Insider magazine as part of a special section on the business of health. Click here for the e-edition (subscription required).