Research: The Intangible Costs and Benefits of Short-Term Medical Experiences

by Asha Behdinan


One key aspect of the work being carried out by The 53rd Week is research, which supports our advocacy/awareness and innovation efforts to improve the outcomes of short-term global health experiences abroad. This week’s blog post is from our summer intern, Asha Behndian, who describes an economic analysis she’s in the midst of preparing for presentation at the American Public Health Association meeting in Boston, November 2013.


In La Romana, Dominican Republic, healthcare is provided to Haitian migrants through mobile medical clinics provided by short-term volunteer teams. We are conducting an analysis of the costs and benefits of the healthcare model of provided during these short-term experiences. The purpose of this project is to provide literature on the measurement of intangible impacts of such trips on the recipient community and working organization, as well as determining the qualitative impact of short-term medical missions.

We planned to evaluate several factors, including the increase in standard of living and quality of life, equality between the social classes, the effects of newcomers showing solidarity towards the community members, inefficiencies arising from the short duration of the trip, and organizational costs. The data collected included quantitative data obtained from the local hospital coordinating clinical care and public records data, and qualitative data collected through surveys and interviews with volunteers, local health care professionals, and residents of bateyes.

We then quantified the qualitative data and assigned values to the intangible factors. This was done through several methods, namely the human capital approach, revealed preference approach, and contingent valuation. The human capital approach assesses costs and benefits in terms of a person’s new or increased earnings, while revealed preferences evaluates the monetary value of intangible benefits from indicators in the market. Lastly, contingent valuation was used to examine a person’s willingness to pay for certain benefits, to best determine their value.

Using these data, preliminary results suggest that mobile medical clinics impact residents’ standard of living and quality of life, as well as the equality between social classes. The results assess the actual societal impact of these short-term medical experiences and will guide further research towards improving the efficiency and the long-term sustainability of outcomes from short-term medical care and volunteerism.


Understanding the nature of short-term experiences is the first step to ensuring they provide benefit for the communities that receive them, while retaining key benefits for volunteers and institutions who participate. We can shift the balance of the benefits through research, advocacy, and innovation.

Stay tuned for more!


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