Medical Tourism - Basic Guidelines (with pros and cons) and Top Places to Visit

Millions of people travel abroad for medical treatment - from dental work to major heart surgery - all done at a fraction of the cost back home. Medical tourism brings in billions of dollars a year worldwide. So, we wanted to know, what exactly is medical tourism?

Well, since the mid 20th century, healthcare costs have exploded in many developed countries, especially the United States. Some have blamed this on the closed system of procedure and drug pricing, which does not allow for free-market competition. So when prices rise, they don’t go back down. Other factors, like exaggerated insurance billing, malpractice lawsuits, and infrequent, but serious doctor visits contribute to increasing costs. According to a 2011 OECD report, a procedure like a heart bypass can cost more than $100,000 dollars in the US. However, that same procedure could run less than $4,000 dollars in Mexico.

For those without health insurance or high deductibles, medical tourism represents a viable and beneficial alternative. For Americans, the most common medical tourism destinations include Thailand, Mexico, India, and Cuba. In many of these developing countries, medical tourism represents a lucrative and growing source of economic revenue. Countries are actually competing for medical tourists. In Japan, the government is instituting new policies that will help increase the number of hospitals accepting foreign patients. Worldwide, the industry is said to be worth up to $55 billion dollars.

However, there are certain drawbacks. The US Center for Disease Control has registered several safety concerns over higher rates of bacterial infections and diseases for medical tourists. These can be attributed to less strict sanitation rules in other countries and the presence of contagious diseases that are otherwise rare in the US. In 2014, 19 American women, who traveled to the Dominican for plastic surgery, contracted bacterial infections.

Additionally, transplant tourism has become a highly controversial issue. Medical tourists can obtain organs and transplant operations without waiting in a long line, and for less money. But the World Health Organization says the organs often come from vulnerable people. Most of the world has completely banned transplant tourism. However, organs can still be purchased on the black market.

Medical tourism also presents problems for locals who now face more competition for healthcare in their own country. Wealthy outsiders can crowd out native citizens, and even raise the prices for certain procedures by increasing demand. Healthcare providers, too, can be required to change their practices in order to accommodate and cater to foreigners.

A recent report on healthcare in developed countries ranked the US last in effectiveness and efficiency. This is despite the fact that the US spends more money on healthcare per person than any other country. Presently, the future of medical tourism is expected to remain profitable as experts predict billions of dollars in revenue growth for the coming years.

Top destinations for Medical tourists to visit - 

Turkey
  • Practically zero waiting time.
  • Low-cost treatments.
  • Turkish Airlines offer a discount to those flying in for medical reasons.
Thailand
  • A medical tourism industry that dates back to the '70s.
  • An airport that's well serviced from around the world and easy visa processes.
  • Bumrungrad International Hospital offers every kind of procedure imaginable to more than 400,000 international patients each year.
India
  • Patients can save up to 85% on western healthcare costs.
  • A growing number of visitors are heading here for low-cost fertility treatments, often combined with a bucket-list visit to the Taj Mahal or other iconic landmarks.
Malaysia
  • Hospitals offer luxurious rooms more akin to hotel suites than hospital wards.
  • Prince Court Medical Centre even has indoor hydrotherapy pools.
Brazil
  • Medical travelers come here to take advantage of cheaper cosmetic procedures in the country.
  • Also ranks highly for affluent tourists seeking the service of celebrity surgeons or much-coveted procedures.

Benefits of Medical Tourism

Medical tourism began in a period before Christ as early as 4200 BC where health rate corporations included baths in thermal springs or in temples. Throughout time as civilization progressed, medicine developed into the force, we see today. This teaches us that the Medical tourism industry might change shape and name in the long run but the phenomenon of patients traveling from one destination to another for medical care will certainly continue. The medical tourism industry can offer consumers a wide range of benefits.

The most important benefit for many patients is the low-cost high-quality health care options available in many medical tourism destinations. This tends to be cheaper than their home countries however benefits of medical tourism are not limited to cost savings in high quality alone. Other benefits include easy accessibility and acceptability of services and other destinations availability and better quality of health care services. Additionally, medical tourism can offer private care and customized services abroad.

Challenges in Medical Tourism

However, in order to show people the whole picture, it is important to highlight some of the challenges and issues of medical tourism as well. Issues such as a lack of access to correct information can have detrimental results for patients. There is a lack of regulation when it comes to marketing strategies for medical tourism facilities so patients are not aware of what information is accurate or not. Additionally, patients could face problems when in another country due to cross-cultural misunderstandings and language barriers.

In medical tourism, the main challenge is that people are taking information off the internet and making life-threatening decisions based on what they read and not necessarily knowing what all the aspects they need to be considering are.
So, for instance, looking at hospitals international accreditation which would be able to ensure patient safety and quality standards, the certification of professionals in the industry, looking at the certifications and validating the credentials of the physicians, you can go to the websites of the international accreditation bodies to make sure that those are legitimate accreditations that they're still valid and you can also see if there have been claims filed against those hospitals.

Clearly, one of the major issues today is that there are a lot of falsehoods out there and for sure that's where things are getting confusing. So just don't get confused. Do thorough research on the whole procedure and processes and then decide with a sound mind what to do because at last, your safety is in your own hands.