How far would you go to cut through the red tape, high prices, and long waits to have the surgery you need or want? Many people are traveling farther from home and venturing to other countries — it’s even become part of the tourism industry.
Medical tourism is the practice of traveling across international borders to obtain some type of health care. It’s most commonly used for elective procedures, such as cosmetic surgery, or complex specialized operations, such as cardiac surgery or joint replacement.
The process for having a medical procedure abroad starts with finding a medical tourism provider and presenting them with a medical report, which includes a full health history and a local doctor’s diagnosis. Next, the patient has a consultation with the medical tourism provider’s certified doctor. They’ll discuss where the procedure will take place, the duration of the stay needed, and the approximate expenditure.
After that, the patient signs consent forms and applies for a medical visa for the country where the procedure will take place. Once in country, the medical tourism provider assigns the patient a case executive, who is responsible for overseeing treatment and care.
The medical tourism trend is on the rise, and while I’m by no means a medical expert, I wanted to share my insight about how this trend is impacting the travel industry.
Why are patients turning to medical tourism? Long wait times and high health care costs in first-world countries are among the reasons cited. Compared to the United States or Western Europe, the cost of surgery in places like India and Thailand can be one-tenth the price, with hospital stays and rehabilitation included.
The biggest concern with medical tourism is that the level of care and accreditation varies greatly across the globe. Because of the rapid growth of the industry, little has been done to ensure that health care tourism providers maintain a high level of care and meet safety standards. For example, you might run into health care providers oversees who practice outside of their area of expertise, or utilize student volunteers and trainees in place of licensed medical professionals.
Another factor to consider is if something goes wrong abroad, it might not be covered by insurance. Medical malpractice litigation doesn’t protect patients in many foreign countries as it does in the states, so patients can be left with tricky legal issues. Additionally, if a patient is actually awarded malpractice financial damages, there is the chance that the doctor or hospital will not have appropriate insurance and are therefore unable to pay the compensation.
Ethical issues have also plagued the medical tourism industry, such as the illegal purchasing of organs and tissues, and the growing concern that the quality of care for local patients will decline as local doctors focus efforts on foreigners.
Despite the risks, medical tourism is growing, and is set to become a $100 billion industry this year. If you’re considering medical tourism, the first and most important step is to be informed. Learn all you can about the country to which you’ll travel, its laws, and the medical facility where your procedure will take place. Be sure the facility and doctor you choose is accredited according to U.S. standards. You’re your best advocate, so make sure to be an informed medical tourist.
Would you ever travel internationally for a medical procedure? Should the industry be regulated or left to the patient’s discretion? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments section.