Q&A: Medical Tourism




Find out what you need to know before you go on a medical tourism trip

What is medical tourism?
Medical tourism is the practice of traveling internationally for elective or non-elective medical procedures. The Deloitte Center for Health Solutions estimates approximately 540,000 Americans traveled abroad for medical care in 2008, and this number could reach more than 1.6 million by 2012.

Why do patients seek treatment outside the United States?
Patients cite increased affordability and greater access to medical care as the primary reasons for traveling abroad for care.

What are the most common procedures sought by medical tourists?
The top non-cosmetic procedures sought by medical tourists include heart bypass, heart valve replacement, hip replacement, knee replacement and hysterectomy and other gynecological procedures. Common cosmetic and plastic surgery procedures include abdominoplasty, eyelid surgery, breast augmentation/reduction, cosmetic skin refinishing and body contouring, facelifts and implant surgery, liposuction and rhinoplasty.

Does medical tourism carry risks?
Yes, and some of those risks can be life-threatening. They include:

  • Exposure to infectious diseases in the host country;
  • Substandard quality of care;
  • Travel-related health complications.

How can patients ensure high quality of care and safety?
Patients should research and choose facilities accredited by organizations such as the Joint Commission International (JCI). Most hospitals feature this information on their Web sites, and patients can find those accredited by JCI at www.jointcommissioninternational.org. While accredited facilities very often have qualified physicians, patients should research licensing and outcomes data for both surgeons and anesthesiologists, as well.

What are medical tourism companies?
Medical tourism companies equip patients with valuable information to help facilitate the process. They often do everything from transferring medical records to coordinating travel logistics.

What are the benefits and risks of using medical tourism companies?
Medical tourism companies offer a variety of convenient services and are therefore worth considering. But patients should research these companies carefully because they vary in quality of service. Other drawbacks can be additional fees, favoritism toward certain facilities or countries and increased risk of miscommunication as a result of third-party involvement.

Should patients involve their local medical providers in the process?
Yes. Local medical providers will likely play a key role throughout the process, ideally from administering preoperative exams to providing aftercare, especially if complications occur.

What role do insurance companies play?
Patients should be informed of coverage and reimbursement policies from their providers. Never assume any procedure is covered.

What other factors should patients consider?

  • Patients should prepare for an extended hospital stay, as some people develop postoperative complications or simply need more time to recover.
  • Know your medications and how to access them, and expect your physician to prescribe additional ones before, during or after their procedure, which may cost extra.
  • Be sure to coordinate local postoperative care and financing ahead of time.

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