Questions: Medical Tourism


Q: What Is Medical Tourism?

Medical tourism is when somebody leaves their hometown for another state or country to receive medical or dental care. Historically, this is not new but as a real industry, it has only been around a few decades. Globalization, mass communications, the internet and the current ease of traveling to many places has made it easier for developing countries to compete in the global healthcare market. The lower labor costs, more reasonable malpractice insurance, and heavy investing by governments and private equity has allowed some medical tourism destinations to emerge as leaders in affordable high-quality healthcare.

Q: Why is healthcare less expensive in Medical Tourism Destinations?

There are several reasons why healthcare is less expensive in medical tourism destinations and in many other countries, buy the main reason is the lower overall operating costs. Wages in these destinations are mostly lower than they are in countries like the US, Canada, or Western Europe. The reason for the lower wages is the lower overall cost of living. This means that there is less overhead cost from such things as as insurance, property taxes and labor. Also, many of these destinations do not require the abundance of administrative people and the related costs like we see in the US because of all the potential legal liability.

Q: If it costs less, it the quality not as good?

By no means does this mean that the quality is inferior or safety is any less. It simply demonstrates that providing quality healthcare does not have to be as expensive as it is in the US. In fact, because of the lower demands and costs, many hospitals and providers are then able to have more staff attending patients, increasing satisfaction and overall patient care.

Q: Other than cost, what other advantages are there to Medical Travel?

While dramatic cost savings is the principle benefit, there are other advantages:

    • Wait-times for a procedure are typically shorter! This is particularly true for patients that come from countries with a nationalized health care system (e.g. Canada, U.K.) where wait-timesfor some procedures can be months or even years. In most medical tourism destinations you can see a specialist right away.

    • Superior Service. As stated before, with lower labor costs, many foreign healthcare facilities can hire additional staff thus having higher nurse-to-patient ratios. Patients often comment that their medical travel experience was more like a hotel stay than a hospital visit.

    • Access to new or non FDA approved procedures. Often, other countries can offer procedures that are not yet available in the US or your home country. In the US, it often takes many years for the FDA to approve a procedure, even though that procedure has been routinely and safely performed for decades elsewhere in the world. The FDA is notorious for being behind in the approval process because of the fast pace of modern medicine in discovering and developing new and effective treatment options.

    • Traveling and seeing new places. Depending on your particular medical or dental need, some patients find the travel itself to be very rewarding. For example, many who travel for dental procedures spend time at their destination shopping, sightseeing, trying out new experiences and exploring new places.

Q: Is Medical Tourism Safe?

After having their attention grabbed by the dramatic cost savings, “Is it safe? is the most often asked first question by medical travelers. The qualified answer is “Yes!”, but you have to do your homework. What does this mean? It means that not all foreign medical providers are equal, just like not all US doctors and hospitals are equal. There are many excellent foreign medical providers (up there with the best in the world), most are good, and then there are some that the best that can be said is “not so much”.

While any medical surgery or procedure, regardless of where it is performed (in the US or in a foreign country), entails risks, there are things you can look for and questions you should ask that can help you identify the quality facilities and providers.

Q: What should I look for with hospitals?

For hospitals, one of the first thing to look for is what Accreditation they have. While a country specific Accreditation is very important, a medical traveler should also look for accreditation organizations that represent the quality metrics like at home. The principal one among these is JCI (Joint Commission International) Accreditation. JCI is the international arm of the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, which evaluates quality and procedures and is the principle accrediting body of US hospitals. Take note that years ago, Mexico amended its national accreditation system for hospital to align itself with the JCI principals. While not exactly the same, the current Mexican Accreditation for hospitals is something that can be trusted.

Q: What should I look for with clinics?

For clinics, medical offices, ambulatory surgery centers and basically every other medical or dental setting that is not a hospital, the two principle accrediting bodies are the AAAASF (The American Association for Accreditation of Ambulatory Surgery Facilities) and AAAHC (The Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care).

While there are other very valid accrediting organizations (in Europe and elsewhere), these are the main ones if US standards are what interest you. Keep in mind that just because a facility is accredited, it is not a guarantee that your outcomes will be perfect. No one can make that claim, nor should they. What it does mean is that the facility is following the latest best practices and that the likelihood of common problems are very reduced. Likewise, just because a clinic is not accredited by one of these two bodies, it does not necessarily mean that they are not good. In fact, in the U.S. most dental clinics are not accredited by either of these bodies. Also, these two organizations are still very young in the international market, but they are growing.

Q: Should I inform my local doctor that I am planning on getting medical care abroad?

We strongly recommend that you discuss with your treating physician that you are thinking about getting medical care abroad. They can help you with communicating your medical information with the foreign provider as well as recommend questions to ask. Additionally, you should ask your doctor if they will be available to you upon your return.

Also note that some doctors are weary of foreign doctors and may try to dissuade you from travelling. While there may be legitimate reasons for not traveling, many doctors are just not knowledgeable of the fact that there are really good hospitals and doctors elsewhere in the world, even in countries you would not expect.

Q: Can I bring a companion or family member with me on my medical trip?

Absolutely! In fact, its encouraged that medical travelers go with a companion. Typically, medical travelers are much more relaxed knowing that there is someone there to help care for them and their interests.

Q: How long will I need to recuperate before I can safely fly home?

The length of your recuperation depends on what medical procedure you receive. Your medical or dental provider should advise you of your expected recuperation time prior to your departure. Also, your treating physician must clear you to fly after any surgery. There are some inherit risks to flying that could be increased with recent surgery.

Q: Can I vacation or recuperate at a tourist destination?

Of course, but with limitations. Depending on your medical procedure, your physician will advise you when or if it is appropriate to vacation while recovering. There are many recovery retreats in beautiful locations that specialize in recuperating medical travelers.

Q: What should I do if I need follow-up care when I get back home?

As stated before, it is very important that you discuss your plans about getting treatment abroad with your treating physician at home. Additionally, it is very important that your physician be willing to give any needed follow-up care upon your return. As well, it is important to discuss with your overseas provider how they handle follow-up care when you return home.