Medical tourism may be defined as seeking healthcare outside one’s own country. This is becoming more common as people search for affordable healthcare. In the U.S., patients travel to countries that perform the procedure they need for a fraction of the cost of the same procedure done domestically. In Canada, where healthcare is essentially free but where wait times may be unacceptably long, people are choosing to go to places that can perform the necessary procedure on the same day of arrival if desired. Some patients like to kill two birds with one stone and combine surgery with a holiday in an exotic locale.
What are the advantages for patients/consumers? As mentioned, costs may be considerably lower in other countries, allowing patients to combine a holiday with their procedure. Having surgery in another country can also cut down considerably on wait times for those patients who come from countries such as Canada, where wait times for elective surgery may be months. For example, wait time for a hip replacement may be longer than a year in Britain and Canada. In the U.S., restrictions on the patient’s choice of facility, surgeon, and the type of prosthetic used may be factors in patients choosing to receive medical care out-of-country. Additionally, many international hospitals have improved their facilities and standards of care to attract international patients. Many international hospitals have become JCI-accredited, which makes them even more attractive to foreign patients.
What are the disadvantages for patients/consumers? One disadvantage is that patients traveling to foreign countries for healthcare may actually expose themselves to infectious diseases to which their immune system has had no experience in dealing with (i.e. TB, malaria, hepatitis). Also, travel after some surgeries may not be recommended for some time and may be very uncomfortable. Post-operative care may not be to the same standard that some patients are used to, although many foreign hospitals are striving to remedy this.
Other considerations concern legal issues. Patients who are dissatisfied with their surgery results, or who have an adverse outcome, may have little recourse in other countries. Doctors in other countries may not have to adhere to the same insurance and malpractice standards as physicians in countries such as Canada and the U.S. Patients who suffer a poor outcome may have a difficult time finding a doctor in the U.S. who is willing to take on their care.
It seems the trend of medical tourism is here to stay. Patients who are considering receiving their care in a foreign country should thoroughly research the doctor and hospital where they will be receiving their care. They should also research insurance options for themselves before departure. Lastly, choosing a facility that has been JCI-accredited may provide some reassurance that the hospital they have chosen is maintaining basic standards of care.
Health News Today, July 10, 2008. Washington Post, Wall Street Journal Examine Issue of Medical Tourism. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/114520.php.