Don’t Forget Your Passport!
Imagine seriously injuring yourself, requiring surgical treatment, but not having the insurance or the means to cover the skyrocketing cost of domestic healthcare. Would you submit yourself to treatment at a U.S. hospital, or would you seek out medical care in a foreign country? While it may be significantly cheaper to be treated at an international hospital, one should seriously weigh the pros and cons before wearing the hat of a “Medical tourist.”
“Medical tourism” refers to traveling to another county for medical care. One study estimated that in 2007 up to 750,000 U.S. residents traveled abroad for care. Another consultancy, found that at most 10,000 patients made a healthcare seeking trip only one year later. As we can see, the data is still questionable. Patients Beyond Borders estimates that as many as 12 million people globally now travel for care, the primary motivation being cost savings. In addition to being less expensive, a large number of medical tourists are immigrants to the U.S. returning to their home country for care. Some of the most common procedures that people undergo are cosmetic surgery, orthopedic surgery, heart surgery, and dentistry.
I can understand traveling the world seeking top-notch medical care if you are among the world’s richest citizens or if you feel more comfortable at a hospital in your home country with physicians who share your cultural practices. However, I don’t know if the benefits outweigh the potential risks that come with medical tourism. The following is by no means an all encompassing list of the risks that medical tourists face.
1) Communication – if you are unable to communicate in the native language of your clinician you increase the possibility of misunderstandings arising about your care.
2) Safe Injection Practices – and I would even venture to expand this to infection control procedures in general. Not all countries have strict regulations regarding infection control and so you run the risk of contracting a life-threatening infection such as HIV, hepatitis, or a drug-resistant bacterial infection.
3) Pharmaceuticals – these may be counterfeit or of poor quality in some countries.
4) Blood Supply – the blood supply in some countries comes primarily from paid donors and may not be screened which also puts patients at risk for contracting blood borne pathogens.
5) Flying – flying after surgery increases the risk for blood clots that can increase your risk of TIA or pulmonary embolism.
If you are planning on traveling to another country for medical care, the CDC outlines several key recommendations to help keep you safe.
1) See a travel medicine practitioner at least 4–6 weeks before the trip to discuss general information for healthy travel and specific risks related to the procedure and travel before and after the procedure.
2) Check for the qualifications of the health care providers who will be doing the procedure and the credentials of the facility where the procedure will be done. The Joint Commission International (US-based) certifies health care facilities according to specific standards.
3) Make sure that you have a written agreement with the health care facility or the group arranging the trip, defining what treatments, supplies, and care are covered by the costs of the trip.
4) Determine what legal actions you can take if anything goes wrong with the procedure.
5) If you go to a country where you do not speak the language, determine ahead of time how you will communicate with your doctor and other people who are caring for you.
6) Obtain copies of your medical records that includes the lab and other studies done related to the condition for which you are obtaining the care and any allergies you may have.
7) Prepare copies of all your prescriptions and a list of all the medicines you take, including their brand names, their generic names, manufacturers, and dosages.
8) Arrange for follow-up care with your local health care provider before you leave.
9) Before planning “vacation” activities, such as sunbathing, drinking alcohol, swimming, or taking long tours, find out if those activities are permitted after surgery.
10) Get copies of all your medical records before you return home.
If you have any stories about you or someone you know who has gone overseas for elective surgery or other medical care I would love to hear them!
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