The pros and cons of medical tourism

words Alexa Wang

As global travel gets easier and the world seems to shrink, people are traveling for business, for pleasure and also, increasingly, to seek better health care. Medical tourism is trending up — but is it worth the risks? Let’s take a look at some of the possible pros and cons of medical tourism.

Possible Benefits of Medical Tourism Services

There are numerous reasons you might consider traveling to a foreign country to undergo a particular medical procedure. The following are some of the most popular reasons medical tourism is on the rise:

  • There are outstanding healthcare providers located all over the world. Some of them are located in countries where the cost of living is low, and thus the services they provide could be far less expensive than comparable medical services your own country.
  • There might be long wait times for a particular medical procedure in your native country, but you wouldn’t have to wait in the country you want to visit.
  • A procedure you’re interested in might be unavailable in your native country but readily available in a foreign country.

The New York Times has reported a medical tourism success story: An American family traveled abroad to Thailand to enjoy a lovely vacation. During the trip, the family saved a substantial sum of money resulting from scheduled dental procedures that would have cost much more in the United States. This is the sort of outcome that many medical tourists are hoping for when they make the arrangements to combine vacation travel with planned healthcare.

Possible Downsides to Medical Tourism

Medical procedures all involve risk. Risk is present regardless of where the procedure takes place; undergoing a procedure in your own country does not remove all the risk.

However, there are certain factors that make having a procedure done at home less risky:

  • When your medical procedure is performed in your native country, there is less chance of medical error due to a miscommunication caused by language barriers or cultural differences.
  • When your general practitioner performs your medical procedures or recommends the specialist who does so, you can be sure that the doctors involved will have access to your previous medical records. This can reduce a wide range of risks. For example, if your trusted general practitioner performs your medical treatments, you’re less likely to be exposed to complications from drug incompatibilities or receive medications you’re allergic to.
  • When problems do arise, sorting them out is far easier at home than it is in a foreign country.
  • If you happen to need help as a result of a medical procedure gone awry, it’s generally easier to get help from your friends, family and / or attorney in your home country than it is abroad. Cross-border legal procedures can be complex and prohibitively expensive.

The Epoch Times has reported a heartbreaking story of a young woman who died after traveling from the United States to Mexico to undergo cosmetic surgery. Her story illustrates some of the things that can go wrong during a medical procedure in a foreign country. The young woman traveled abroad for the surgery without having told her family or friends what she was doing. It is possible that perhaps her outcome could have been different if she had remained in the United States to have the procedure performed or if she had brought a loved one along with her for the trip. We will never know for sure what other outcomes could have been possible; but regardless, people who are considering medical tourism can consider her case a cautionary tale with important lessons to teach.

Deciding if Medical Tourism Is the Best Choice for You

Before you decide to embark on a journey to another country for medical treatment, it’s wise to perform a health insurance comparison in your own country. Perhaps you can find a healthcare provider in your area who will perform the treatment you need at a satisfactory price; or perhaps the provider can give you a faster turnaround time than you were initially expecting.

If that simply isn’t possible, you’ll have to do your research to make an informed decision about whether it would be worthwhile for you to travel abroad to have the procedure performed by a foreign healthcare provider. Be proactive about weighing the potential risks against the perceived benefits. If you do decide to undergo a medical procedure in a foreign country, be sure to bring a trustworthy family member or close friend with you. Take as many precautions as possible to ensure the best possible outcome under the circumstances.


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