Medical tourism is, at its most basic, the process of traveling outside of a patient’s home region for medical care. Usually it involves traveling internationally, but this is not required. Traditionally, medical tourism took place when individuals would travel from a lesser-developed country to receive treatment that was not available in their region. But in the recent past there has been a growing trend of people traveling from well-developed nations to other countries for medical procedures.
Why would someone do that?
Procedure Availability: There are a number of reasons that an individual may travel for healthcare. The first reason, as stated above, is that they want or require a procedure that is not available or permitted where they live. This may be a safe, cutting edge procedure that has not been approved yet by the local medical governing body. For example, laparascopic banding (lap band surgery) was not approved by the FDA as a treatment until 2001 while Mexico had been performing the procedure since the 1990s. So you can see how a safe procedure, that eventually was approved by the local governing body, would have been available prior to that time through medical tourism.
Cost Benefits: Another reason a patient may make use of medical tourism is for the cost saving benefits. According to the World Health Report, the health care system of the United States ranked first in health expenditure per capita, but 37th in terms of quality, out of 191 countries. This, among other factors, is driving more and more people towards seeking health care options abroad.
Out of 191 countries, the U.S. health care system ranked #1 in cost but #37 in quality.
– The World Health Report 2000
For instance, procedure that costs $50,000 in the United States may be done for under $10,000 elsewhere. So for an uninsured or under-insured patient the savings, even with travel and accommodations, can be substantial. Additionally, even fully insured individuals will find that there are many elective procedures that are simply not covered under insurance, and medical tourism will allow these patients to be able to get the procedure they want at an affordable price.
Reduced Waiting Time: A third reason that someone might choose medical tourism is to gain access to healthcare more rapidly than in their home country. Many countries, particularly those with nationalized healthcare, can have substantial waiting times for non life-threatening procedures, sometimes up to and exceeding a year. Sometimes these conditions, while not life-threatening, can seriously degrade one’s quality of life. In this case, having the ability to go almost immediately and have the problem attended to, rather than suffer for a long period of time, becomes a very attractive option.
Best-of-the-Best: Sometimes a procedure is available in your home region, but the best doctor in the world isn’t. For certain patients, having the procedure done by the best possible doctors available is the only acceptable option. In this case, medical tourism provides them access to that provider no matter where they are in the world.
Discretion: For some patients, they don’t want the whole world to know that they have had a certain procedure, for whatever reason. Combining a trip with a medical procedure allows a patient to maintain a certain level of discretion and be able to recover away from the stress and daily grind of their home life. Imagine someone going away for two weeks and coming back looking ten years younger, they claim it’s just the fresh air and sea breeze, and no one is any the wiser.
Combination Vacation: For many procedures, the recovery time is minimal, if any is required at all. These procedures make great excuses to make a vacation out of your medical tour. A patient can make plans to have their procedure at either the beginning, or end of their trip, and spend the rest of the time on vacation, enjoying the culture and attractions or a new place, while still receiving that important medical procedure.
Is Medical Tourism Right for Me?
We think that a huge portion of patients could find a use for medical tourism in their lives. While it won’t be a good fit for all patients or all procedures, the opportunity to receive better quality care, at a lower price, in an amazing location is simply too good to pass up if the opportunity presents itself. So just think how a world of healthcare options could improve your life!