The Growing Trend of Americans Seeking Medical Care Abroad

There has been a sharp increase in Americans leaving the country for medical care. There aren’t hard numbers on how many Americans travel to other countries for medical care, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates it’s in the millions. Medical tourism was once reserved for the very wealthy, but it is now a booming business across the board.

In fact, Statista reports the medical tourism market is currently worth about $47 billion, but the industry is expected to grow twice as much by 2029, with forecast numbers around $111 billion.

Why Travel for Healthcare?

There are two main reasons people travel for healthcare in other countries: cost and desire.

Although the United States generally has better healthcare than other countries, American insurance companies are notorious for their quirks regarding what they’ll cover and what they won’t. Even those with better coverage may need a procedure the insurance won’t pay for or one where the copay is out of reach for most people.

If these patients have to save up to meet the copay, they may not get the care they need in a timely fashion. According to KFF, an independent source of health policy research, 61% of Americans say they did not get the care they needed because of the cost.

In such cases, patients may opt to go elsewhere in the world for treatment. A $10,000 trip overseas could be cheaper than what they would pay in the U.S. for their care.

Some people want medical procedures that are not available in the U.S., not covered, or that their physician will not authorize because they feel it’s unnecessary or unsafe. Those patients who can afford the trip may decide to go elsewhere for the procedures.

Claudia Cometa, founder and CEO of the healthcare consultant group Peace Advocacy Group, says, “I believe medical tourism is a viable alternative if and when an individual feels the treatment options available in the U.S. either do not align with their values or have not resulted in positive outcomes. With the necessary medical oversight, this can be accomplished safely and effectively.”

Procedures That Prompt International Travel

According to the State of Rhode Island Department of Health, most patients travel to have cosmetic surgery, dental procedures, or heart surgery and travel to a country that specializes in particular procedures.

Mexico is a popular choice for those who need dental work. The rates are much lower in Mexico, and according to Forbes, many dentists in that country trained in the U.S., or at the best dental schools in Mexico. The Mexican government has a program where dentists can go to school for free. They must serve as a community dentist for a year after graduation to qualify. Medication costs are controlled in Mexico, so overall costs are much lower.

Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), is a popular destination for orthopedic or complex cardiac surgery, as well as cosmetic and dental surgery. According to Global Perspective Solutions, some healthcare providers offer package deals that include travel, food, accommodations, and the costs of the procedures. The UAE offers 90-day medical visas so patients can have their treatments and stay in the country while they recover.

Patients travel to Thailand for cardiac and cosmetic surgery, fertility treatments, bariatric surgery, and ophthalmic procedures, including LASIK and cataract surgeries. Private hospitals actively recruit medical tourists, touting the low cost of their procedures and high quality of care. Most Thai citizens cannot afford these facilities because their salaries are too low, but compared to U.S. hospitals, the costs of care are much lower.

According to Health-Tourism, Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok attracts the most foreign patients of any hospital in the world. Because Thailand’s economy has such a strong tourist component, most medical facilities have an English-speaking staff, or they employ multilingual interpreters.

“I’ve been a digital nomad for almost 20 years, and I love the lifestyle, but healthcare is something I never want to compromise on,” says Greg Gaynor with Face Dragons. “So, when I broke a bone coming down some large stone steps in Tianjin, China, I flew to the U.K., where surgeons put a titanium plate in my wrist. Don’t hesitate to hop on a flight to find the medical care you need.”

Risk vs. Reward

Any discussion of medical tourism includes talking about the risks involved. U.S. doctors must carry malpractice insurance, while doctors in other countries may or may not have it. A U.S. physician must have a license to practice from an accredited university, and most are board-certified. Doctors overseas are usually certified, but those standards may or may not be consistent throughout the country. It’s incumbent on the patients to do their research to make sure their chosen physician is what they claim to be.

Henry Criss, CEO of Fraum Center for Restorative Health, says, “While we respect patients’ autonomy in making health-related decisions, we always advise them to thoroughly research and consider the risks involved. This includes understanding the regulatory environment of the destination country, the credentials and reputation of the facility and staff, and the potential difficulties in post-treatment care upon returning home.”

Depending on the country, first responder care may not be as prompt as it is in the U.S., and some areas may not have emergency service at all. A person who has had recent surgery needs to know ambulance service is available in case they need urgent care.

Patients must also consider the costs of medical tourism. They will need to add up the price of the plane tickets and hotels and know the procedure costs and physician’s fees. The patient must also consider whether they have the money to pay for accommodations and meals while they recuperate. The CDC recommends patients wait at least seven days to fly after having a minor procedure and 10 to 14 days after chest or abdominal surgery.

Visas and travel insurance requirements for hospitals vary among countries, so patients need to know that information in advance. Healthcare brokers that cater to medical tourists can help people with these technicalities and apprise them of their legal rights — just in case something goes wrong.

No one wants to believe they might be victims of violence or crime while traveling, but there have been cases when patients have been injured or killed while traveling for their care. Patients should check with the U.S. State Department for any travel advisories in their destination countries. They should also research local customs and culture to avoid offending their hosts.

Alexandra Caspero | Wealth of Geeks

This article was produced by Media Decision and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.


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