Traveling for Treatment: Weighing the Risks of Medical Tourism
by Amy Scholten, MPH
Suppose you need surgery and cannot afford it. Or maybe you want a treatment you cannot get in the United States. What are your options?
Some seek medical treatment overseas. Traveling overseas for medical care is called medical tourism. It is not as carefree as a vacation overseas. There is a lot to consider.
Treatments Sought in Other Countries
People travel overseas most commonly for:
Why Travel for Treatment?
Many travel overseas for medical care to save money. This is especially true for cosmetic surgeries. Cosmetic surgery is to improve one's appearance. It is often not covered by health insurance. Some surgeries are covered by medical insurance. However, the overall costs may be less in other countries.
Some health insurance companies also offer overseas benefits. They may also be able to help you save money on care right at home. For example, they may cover treatment at less expensive hospitals.
But there is a lot more to healthcare than cost. You want to be sure that you get the best care possible. This means qualified doctors. It also means clean, sanitary conditions. Before traveling overseas for care, look at the risks. Compare the risks to the savings.
What Are the Risks?
Any surgery or medical procedure involves risks. Having surgery overseas may have even more risks. Here are some to consider:
Surgery is not as simple as showing up at the hospital on time. The doctor does tests and helps you prepare. You may need to spend time with your doctor after surgery. The doctor monitors healing and watches for infection. You may also need special care or therapy after a surgery.
Before traveling overseas for care, consider care before and after surgery. You will want your medical records before coming home. Your doctor may need the records if you have a problem. Also think about insurance coverage. You may need it to cover possible problems.
You have legal help for medical mistakes in the United States. Your doctor can be proved to be at fault. You may not have the same protections in a foreign country.
Another issue is the language difference. You could have problems communicating with your overseas care team.
There may also be religious or ethical differences too. This could make certain issues a problem. There may be different views on care measures. Do they take extreme measures to save a life? How do they decide to remove an arm or leg? If you choose an overseas hospital, be sure you know their views on issues like these.
Finding Qualified Medical Care
What if treatment overseas is your only option? Find the best care that you can. Be sure to:
These organizations require hospitals to meet certain standards.
As with any medical procedure, it is important to educate yourself. Know the risks of traveling for medical care. Consider them carefully before booking your trip.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Joint Commission International
Canadian Patient Safety Institute
Guidelines for plastic surgery tourists. International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery website. Available at: https://www.isaps.org/medical-travel-guide/plastic-surgery-tourists. Accessed October 27, 2021.
Medical tourism: travel to another country for medical care. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/medical-tourism. Accessed October 27, 2021.
Pretravel evaluation. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/prevention/pretravel-evaluation. Accessed October 27, 2021.
Last reviewed October 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board
Last Updated: 10/27/2021
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