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Truths and Myths About Medical Tourism

Updated on May 29, 2010

If you are willing to travel to a foreign country for health care, you are a candidate for medical tourism, also called health tourism.  Available overseas medical care ranges from simple dental care such as filling a tooth to complex surgical procedures such as hip replacement and heart surgery.

If you are thinking about medical tourism you are not alone.  In 2008, about 560,000 U.S. residents alone traveled abroad for medical care, according to Deloitte Consulting.

But before you consider foreign medical care, you need to take into account what is generally true and what the myths are about this growing trend.

Medical treatments are less expensive outside the U.S. TRUE.

Depending on the medical procedure and foreign country, savings can range from 10% to 90%. The table below provides just a few samples:

Procedure
Cost in U.S. $
Country
Cost in U.S. $ 
Knee Replacement
$40,000
Thailand
$10,000 
Spinal Fusion
$62,000
Singapore
$9,000 
Bone Marrow Transplant
$62,500
India
$30,000 
Varicose Vein Surgery
$7,993
Average of 3 lowest
$1,576
Dental Implants
$2,800
Mexico
$966

Sources for above table:
India Brand Equity Foundation (www.ibef.org)
“Patients Beyond Borders” by Josef Woodman
Deloitte Center for Health Solutions study
www.allmedicaltourism.com

Why the lower costs? First, because the cost of living is usually less in these countries, medical facilities and medical professionals can charge less. Also, medical malpractice insurance is less along with the typical administrative fees insurance companies charge hospitals.

There are no other costs associated with medical tourism. MYTH

Airfare to a foreign country is in addition to the cost of the procedure.  Some medical travel brokers, also called health travel agencies, will quote you a cost that includes airfare, but there may be other travel-related expenses.

For example, there may be fees for passports and/or travel visas.  Suppose you have to extend your stay for recovery.  Are there flight-delay charges?  What about travel costs for taxis or buses to and from the airport?

Additionally, it’s likely you’ll be bringing someone with you for your medical travel.  Add in the costs for their hotel, meals, and daily travel to your bedside.  What’s more, many procedures require that you stick around to recover.  Are there additional daily charges for an extended hospital stay?

Finally, inquire about medical supplies and equipment costs.  Will medications be extra?  Will you need to rent a wheelchair?  Oxygen tank?

You can receive high quality healthcare abroad. TRUE

There are two considerations here: the medical facility and the medical staff.

Medical facilities

Companies that sell medical equipment, sell it around the world. Therefore, the medical treatment centers in foreign countries often have state-of-the-art facilities with the latest medical equipment.

You can also check the accreditation of hospitals worldwide. The primary organization that does this is the Joint Commission International (JCI). The JCI reviews hospitals and clinics worldwide based on a set of safety standards.

An international organization that provides hospital accreditation is The International Society for Quality in Health Care.

Also be aware that some foreign hospitals are affiliated with well-known U.S. health care providers such as the Cleveland Clinic and Johns Hopkins International.

Medical Staff

Many foreign hospitals have doctors who have been trained in the U.S., Europe, Canada or Australia and have worked in medical facilities in those areas.

Learn about the specific doctor doing your procedure. Ask the medical facility for the name of the doctor who will be doing your procedure and what his or her credentials are. Have the facility email you the doctor’s biography and credentials. It would be worth speaking directly to the doctor to evaluate his or her English-speaking skills.

Also, many doctors are board-certified in their particular specialty. Some places to check specialty board certifications include:

  • American Board of Surgery
  • American Board Certified General Surgeon
  • The American Board of Medical Specialists
  • American Board of Plastic Surgery

Remember that surgery is typically done by a team. Look into the history of the medical team as well, including anesthesiologists, surgical assistants, and nursing staff.

Continue your research by reading online forums where people discuss their medical tourism experiences. Two sites that have such forums are:

 

If there’s a problem I can always sue. MYTH

If you have a surgical complication (or, God forbid, death), your country’s court system will probably not be able to help you.  I’m not a lawyer, but I doubt your legal system would even help if you were to try and sue the medical travel broker, because the broker was not the actual provider of medical services.

You could try suing in the foreign country in which the procedure took place.  In most cases, however, medical liability is not as strict as in the U.S.  What’s more, medical malpractice awards are not as high as in the U.S.

When arranging medical travel ask if the medical facility offers some sort of insurance coverage if a complication occurs.  Also, there are international insurance companies that offer medical malpractice insurance if you are going to use an accredited medical facility.

One of the great benefits of medical tourism is taking the time to be a tourist. MYTH

Many healthcare travel websites talk about combining travel and taking care of your medical needs.  But the “tourism” part of the term “medical tourism” is really a misnomer. 

If you are having a simple dental procedure such as a new crown, you may be able to hop out of the dental chair and spend some time at the local beach.  But if you are having any sort of surgical procedure, it is unlikely that you will be jumping up out of your hospital bed and clubbing the night away.

Surgery is serious business and post-operative care and recovery is critical to a successful outcome.  Traveling and/or partying too soon after surgery can result in dangerous complications including infections and blood clots. 

When arranging your overseas medical procedures be sure to find out how long your post-surgery recovery will be, and where it will take place.  You don’t want to be boarding a plane home too quickly after major surgery.

Summary

Having a medical procedure done overseas can provide a high-quality, low cost alternative to doing that same procedure locally. But keep these myths and truths in mind as you do your research.

For more information about medical tourism, see my other Hub page, 5 Step Guide to Medical Tourism

Comments

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    • Billsnotes profile imageAUTHOR

      Billsnotes 

      5 years ago

      The artwork used above was purchased for use from a royalty-free stock image website, www.123rf.com in May of 2010. The photographer is listed as ktsdesign. The link to the page with this art is http://www.123rf.com/photo_450263_flags-globe.html... I purchased use of this artwork in good faith and have have no way of knowing who actually created it.

    • profile image

      franomilano on flickr 

      5 years ago

      the large "flag ball" at the top of this page i want to know who if anyone sold the photo to you (the site owner) od did you just remove it /without permission so avoiding paying for it ? my interest is that i am the artist that created it and it is now in more sites than I care to think of

    • Billsnotes profile imageAUTHOR

      Billsnotes 

      7 years ago

      Thanks for your comment, Jack. For those interested in his 1st hand account of a medical visit in Thailand (by an American resident) please read http://jacksblogs.hubpages.com/hub/Medical-Tourism...

    • profile image

      JacksBlogs 

      7 years ago

      Your HUB sounds like one of those that I talk about in my HUB. It is an unfortunate myth (among many) that American healthcare is the best. Above you say that low cost of living and sensible malpractice insurance explain lower rates in other countries, but the dysfunctional American system also explains the big gap in price. It isn't that other countries are low priced, it is that American prices are to damned high! Even the thought that your recourse is to sue is sooo American. The experience of just being in a great, yet foreign, hospital is a form of tourism too. My HUB about my experience in Thailand might be of interest to some people.

      - - JACK, JacksBlogs

    • Billsnotes profile imageAUTHOR

      Billsnotes 

      7 years ago

      The above comment is from a Law Group with which I have no affiliation.

    • profile image

      DePuy Pinnacle lawsuit 

      7 years ago

      Hi Bill! Although the cost for a hip replacement procedure with a DePuy Pinnacle system may be less expensive in other countries, the side effects of metal toxicity and chronic joint pain are still the same worldwide. Thanks for the information!

    • profile image

      Hospitals in Germany 

      7 years ago

      Germany medical centers are JCI accredited healthcare facilities that are located in Berlin, Freiburg, Hamburg. Various treatments are available for example Lung cancer treatment Germany http://www.health-tourism.com/lung-cancer-treatmen...

      Thanks.

    • Billsnotes profile imageAUTHOR

      Billsnotes 

      8 years ago

      The above comment is from a medical tourism site with ties to India. I have no affiliation with the site but have allowed the comment for those who may want to investigate further.

    • profile image

      ross101 

      8 years ago

      The content in this blog seems to really very interesting.INDIA is a country that stays on top in MEDICAL TOURISM and offers seamless service. It offers best quality care and wide range of surgical options. INDICURE is one such limited company in India offering customized health care services for medical tourism in coordination with support services of accommodation and transportation. INDICURE offers knee joint replacement surgery

    • Billsnotes profile imageAUTHOR

      Billsnotes 

      8 years ago

      The above comment is from a medical tourism travel broker with ties to Mexico. I have no affiliation with the broker but have allowed the comment for those who may want to investigate further.

    • profile image

      Gabriel Senior 

      8 years ago

      The value proposition that Mexico offers American patients is crystal clear: Affordable, Great Quality, and Very Close to Home. The fact that no visa is required and that trips are quick and inexpensive, plus all hotels are cheaper than in the US, make the overall expenditure still 60% less than having surgery in the US. As for the tourism experience, all or our patients always enjoy a little R&R and sightseeing (within their medical limits), be them in Tijuana's beaches, or Monterrey's historic sights.

      This industry is here to stay.

      Gabriel Senior

      Travel For Care

      www.travelforcare.com

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