A growing number of people in the United States are traveling outside the country for medical treatment as a result of the skyrocketing expenses of medical care in the United States. To have medical and cosmetic procedures for a fraction of the cost that they would cost in the United States, many people travel to Mexico and Canada because these countries are the most prevalent destinations. However, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and even Asia are other popular sites. It’s safe to assume that this will initially sound very enticing because everybody likes to save money. You should be aware, however, that flying comes with some dangers and that the experience may not always provide you with the outcomes you seek before you board the aircraft. In some instances, it might result in long-term difficulties, and in extreme cases, it can even cause death. It is imperative that you do your research, talk with your primary care doctor, consult a medical tourism specialist, and thoroughly evaluate the physician and facility well in advance of your treatment so that you know what to expect, and so that you may prevent any surprises along the way.
What is medical tourism?
Each year, billions of dollars are spent on medical tourism around the world. Grand View Research says that the medical tourism business was worth $9.7 billion in 2022. By 2030, it is expected to have grown by 25%. The main reason people go for medical tourism is to save money on medical or cosmetic treatments. In a place like Malaysia, a procedure that costs $55,000 in the U.S. might only cost $10,000 or even less. Most of the time, people can save up to 60% by getting care abroad. This is especially helpful for people who don’t have health insurance or who have insurance that doesn’t cover everything. Some people may go abroad to get medical care that isn’t offered or isn’t approved in the U.S.
Medical tourism might not sound like what most people think of when they hear the word “tourism,” but it is often mixed with a vacation. For example, if you’re going to Mexico to get a crown changed, you might as well spend a few days in Cancun. Facilities and providers may offer high-end medical tourism packages that include airfare, transportation, five-star lodging, and even sightseeing tours to get people to go abroad for care.
Types of medical care you can get abroad
Some of the most popular reasons for medical tourism are dental care and cosmetic surgery. Many people in the U.S. don’t have dental insurance or only have coverage for yearly cleanings and X-rays. DentaVacation says that if you need something bigger, you could save up to 80% by going abroad. Some of the most popular places to go for cheap dentistry work are Mexico, Thailand, India, Costa Rica, and Turkey.
People also often go abroad for cosmetic treatments that aren’t covered by insurance. There are also breast enlargements, facelifts, and tummy tucks. Japan, Mexico, Italy, Brazil, Russia, India, Turkey, France, and Germany are some of the most famous places for cosmetic surgery abroad.
People also often move for cancer treatment, treatment for infertility, and organ or tissue transplants. In some cases, medical tourism is a way to get radical cosmetic surgeries that aren’t available in the U.S., as well as medicines that haven’t been approved by the FDA and treatments that haven’t been tried before. Assisted suicide is another reason why people go to the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Spain, Austria, and New Zealand for medical care.
The role of your primary care doctor
Most of the time, your primary care provider (PCP) won’t be able to help you find care abroad, but they can be a big part of how you decide. Not everyone or every illness is a good fit for getting medical care abroad. Before making any plans, you should check with your doctor to make sure it’s safe for you to travel for medical care. You should make sure that any health problems you have are under control a long time before your planned treatment. Your primary care doctor can also help you get all of your medical papers, which your doctor abroad will want to see. You should tell your foreign clinician as much as you can about your health.
Before you travel, you should also check with your primary care physician (PCP) to see if you need any immunizations and to make sure that all of your prescription medicines have been refilled and that you have extras in case you get sick or have to wait for your trip to start. Lastly, you should talk to your PCP about care workers who might be able to step in and help you if you have any problems after you get home.
Choosing a location and medical facility
There are many factors to consider when selecting a facility for your procedure. Will you seek dental care in Mexico, a hair transplant in Turkey, or cancer treatment in India? Is there a physician or facility that you have heard of or been referred to? Don’t worry if you have no knowledge and are commencing from scratch. The skyrocketing prevalence of medical tourism has resulted in the creation of numerous websites that provide directories of providers, information on their certifications and treatment costs, as well as patient testimonials. This is an excellent starting point for your research.
Additionally, you will need to consider language and cultural differences. Perhaps India is beyond your comfort zone, or you would feel more at ease in a location with English-speaking physicians and nurses. In contrast, if Spanish is your native tongue, you may wish to choose a Spanish-speaking country. This information will help you restrict your search results.
Vet your overseas provider
After selecting a shortlist of prospective vendors, it is essential to verify their credentials. Ensure that they have been accredited by an international organization, such as the Joint Commission International, the International Society for Quality in Health Care, or DNV GL International Accreditation for Hospitals. To be accredited, providers and facilities must meet certain criteria. Check the provider’s education, training, and licenses as well.
Each nation will have its own standards and certification organizations. If the provider claims to have received training in the United States, it will be relatively simple to confirm this. If their training took place in their native country, you will need to conduct research to locate the university or authority that issued their degree, certification, or license. Check to see if the provider is a member of any international organizations, such as the International Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ISAPS) or the General Dental Council (GDC).
How a medical tourism facilitator can help
A medical tourism facilitator is comparable to a medical travel agent. Similar to how travelers use travel agents to simplify vacation planning, medical tourism facilitators can assist in streamlining the medical tourism process. The facilitator may be located in either your native country or the destination country. In either case, they should possess knowledge and expertise about your destination that you lack. In addition, they will have extensive knowledge of the medical tourism procedure and be able to guide you step by step.
Facilitators of medical tourism are typically acquainted with the medical facilities and providers in your destination country. They may be able to assist you in selecting a provider and verifying the provider’s credentials. In addition, they will be able to assist with logistics, including air travel, lodging, transportation, and, if necessary, rehabilitation facilities, as well as obtaining any necessary documents or permits. If you need financial assistance for your procedure, a medical tourism facilitator may also be able to assist you.
Check your insurance
Due to the rising cost of healthcare, some insurance companies have begun offering incentives for seeking treatment abroad. However, you may be eligible for coverage for medically necessary procedures, particularly if you work for a company that offers this perk.
Blue Cross Blue Shield, for instance, allows members of certain plans to travel abroad for medical care that would be prohibitively expensive in the United States. Currently, these benefits are predominantly available to large-company employees. Blue Cross Blue Shield of California has established Access Baja HMO, a California-based health plan that permits employees and their dependents to receive healthcare in Mexico. The insurance company also offers Blue Cross Blue Shield Global Care, which allows members to pursue care abroad.
Risks of infection
Infection is the most prevalent complication encountered by medical tourists. This includes wound infections, bloodborne infections like hepatitis B and C, and HIV, donor-transmitted infections, and bloodstream infections. In a review of research conducted in 2021, it was determined that wound infections were the most prevalent complication of cosmetic procedures performed abroad, followed by infections with nontuberculous mycobacteria.
A further concern for medical tourism is antimicrobial resistance. Bacteria and pathogens can develop resistance to anti-infective medications over time. Inadequate sanitation in foreign facilities can contribute to the global spread of antimicrobial resistance. Then, medical tourists become susceptible to disease outbreaks, severe illness, and mortality.
Therefore, it is essential to choose your provider and facility with care. Choose hospitals accredited by international bodies like DNV GL International Accreditation for Hospitals. This increases the likelihood that the facility adheres to international best practices for patient care and safety.
Risks of air travel after surgery
The risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism is increased by travel immediately before or after surgery. DVT is a blood clot that typically forms in the hips and thighs. Long periods of sitting can cause blood to collect in the legs, which increases the risk of developing a blood clot. If the blood clot separates and travels to the lungs, it can cause a pulmonary embolism, which is a blockage in the circulation. If the clot is large enough, it could prevent blood from reaching the lungs, resulting in mortality. In many instances, vein impairment can result in chronic illness.
Although the risk is low, your chances are increased if you have a history of DVT, a family history of blood clots, a history of blood clots, if you are overweight, or if you have had blood clots in the past, or if you are expectant. Depending on the extent of surgery, the Civil Aviation Authority suggests delaying between one and ten days before flying. Extended and intricate surgical procedures will necessitate additional time between the procedure and travel.
Costs of post-procedure complications
Complications following surgery are not exclusive to any one location, but when they arise in a foreign country, they can be far more challenging to manage. It’s possible that you won’t be able to get the treatment you need, that you’ll have to stay in the hospital for longer than expected, and that you won’t be able to go back to your home country as you had intended. The expenses, hazards, and inconvenient aspects of medical tourism may all increase as a result of this.
In addition, if there are any issues that develop after you get home from the treatment, you may end up spending more money on subsequent care than you did on the procedure itself. Infections can result in the need for hospitalization, and cosmetic procedures that are not performed correctly can result in the need for additional treatments. The complications that arise from procedures performed overseas could or might not be covered by the insurance policy that you have back home. If you are required to take an extended period of time off from work, it is possible that you will not be able to get compensation for this.
In addition, there is a high incidence of unprofessional medical care in medical tourism. Because of the vast variations between the legal systems of the countries that medical tourists visit, it may be impossible for them to seek recourse or revenge.
Planning for your aftercare
When you have medical operations done in your own country, you can often rely on a member of your family or a close friend to provide transportation to and from the hospital as well as support, if required, in the days immediately following the treatment. Will you be able to bring a friend or family member with you on your trip if you have to go out of the country for a procedure that may require assistance once it is completed? In that case, it is imperative that you make preparations in advance in order to guarantee that your requirements for aftercare will be met.
There are medical travel facilitators and hospitals that will factor in the cost of organizing this aspect of your care into the overall cost of your treatment. They might take care of all of your travel arrangements, including booking a hotel room for you. If you are going to have a more involved operation, there is a chance that they will not be able to set up the necessary aftercare for you. Before you make the decision to get treatment in another country, you should do some research on your available options and formulate a game plan. It is difficult enough to be by yourself in a different country; when this is added to the difficulties of recovering after surgery, it may be more practical to have treatment in your own nation, despite the fact that it will be more expensive.