As patients become more innovative about how to save money on healthcare, the prospect of travelling to foreign countries for medical services has spawned an industry called medical tourism. In many cases, the savings realized by seeking care outside the country more than makes up for the travel abroad and even a vacation while there.
Countries like Thailand, Malaysia, India, Turkey, and Costa Rica are increasingly investing in medical tourism as a focus industry for their economies. In many cases, these countries have natural beauty or fascinating history that can attract vacationers for more than the medical service – and places like South Africa even lure patients with “medical safaris.” The bang for the buck on saving big money is the main attraction, however.
American travel agents have even gotten into the mix. A cottage industry of travel arrangers specializing in medical tourism can now do everything from booking your airfare and hotel to scheduling the appointment with a surgeon.
With the increasing focus on medical tourism, and costs here in America continuing to escalate, which services are the most popular or best candidates for being done overseas? Before we provide some ideas, keep in mind that it is up to you to ensure the medical services will be credentialed to your comfort level, and that not all services are a good fit with the long flights and activity level that is common during overseas trips.
Plastic Surgery. Places like Egypt and South Africa, among many other countries, have become popular for performing plastic surgery at discounts of 60% or more. Liposuction, for example, can cost as little as 10% abroad of what it would cost here at home. What makes plastic surgery such an appealing service to have done overseas is that many U.S. insurance companies will deny covering a plastic surgery because it may not be medically necessary. If you are going to pay out of your own pocket, shop the globe.
Dental Procedures. Countries such as Hungary and India are drilling a niche in the area of dental services. Major dental services, such as root canals or reconstruction, can cost 50% less or more in these countries, all in a day when more and more people are dropping dental coverage at home because of questionable value.
Joint Replacements. As Americans remain active at much older ages than they used to, things like hip replacements are becoming more commonplace. The twist is that more and more people are having these replacements done in their pre-Medicare years, creating potentially large out-of-pocket costs associated with the procedures. Going to Thailand for the replacement, according to the Medical Tourism Association, will cost you $12,000 in instead of $43,000 at home.
Heart Surgery. While you need to do extra diligence to ensure you are a good candidate to travel for a service like this, and the ramifications of having someone unqualified perform the service are obviously significant, the price difference is hard to ignore. A heart valve replacement, for example, costs $15,000 in Costa Rica versus $160,000 in the United States – a whopping 90% savings. Before you book the trip south, though, check with your local cardiologist to see if he or she will discount their price, perhaps significantly, to keep your service at their shop.
In short, medical tourism is growing for a reason – you can save lots of money on the exact same service. But be sure that you are a good candidate for the travel, and that you are choosing a service that is done with excellence in the foreign country.
Medical Tourism Advantage
Today, medical tourism in on the rise thanks to increasing costs several countries, including the United States. The treatments being performed in foreign countries include surgical, optical, and dental. This is occurring as American patients try to find less-expensive alternatives, and patients in countries like Canada have become tired of the long waiting lists, feeling they can do better and get quicker results in other countries.
Medical tourism now generates more than twenty-billion dollars annually and is one of the quickest and largest growing industries in the world. While the number of uninsured persons and those with higher deductibles continues to climb, many are opting to be treated outside their own country, where they can afford the treatments they require in a timely fashion. Many of these foreign countries offer low cost, or cost effective, treatments with no waiting lists, so medical tourists are flocking to these places like never before. Today’s expectation is that this industry will continue to grow at a rapid rate of speed and continue to add new countries offering medical treatments to tourists at a fraction of the cost they can get it at home for.
As medical tourism becomes more and more popular, more people are finding benefits offered through being treated away from home. Some of the benefits include:
- Lower Cost. The greatest advantage patients are finding when seeking medical treatment in foreign lands is the possibility of comparison-shopping for their treatment, and the amount of cost savings they achieve. Even after paying for their plane ticket, accommodations, food, and treatment, they are often paying less for it all then they do at home for just the medical treatment required. Today, the treatment received by some patients in foreign countries can be as little as a tenth of the cost for the same treatment in their home country, with a common savings range on the medical care being 70-90%. This is often the key driver to someone choosing to consider medical tourism.
- You know what your costs will be upfront. Most foreign hospitals are more than willing to provide you an upfront estimate of your medical treatment as well as your lodging making it easy to calculate your overall financial needs. Whereas in the United States it can be harder to get a firm price estimate that the provider will stick to.
- You may receive better treatment in foreign hospitals. This is a surprising advantage to most people when it involves medical care. Many of the foreign hospitals now provide more personal care than some North American facilities. In order to attract overseas patients these facilities often offer outstanding quality and service in hospitals that are as well equipped as North American hospitals are, so patients quickly figure out they receive better care and more luxury in the foreign hospital than at home.
- You don’t have to wait. For high demand services, foreign hospitals can have you in and out fully recovered by the time you would have gotten an appointment for certain elective services. In an environment where faster you treat a problem, the better it is for your health, the quick treatment provides some of the patients who need urgent care, a great peace of mind and sense of satisfaction, which speeds up there recovery time.
- You can enjoy a vacation while you recuperate and enjoy a stunning beautiful environment far from home where recuperating on a beach close to lapping waters or shopping downtown in a speciality boutique is just the right medicine to get you well quicker.
Disadvantages of Medical Tourism
Although medical tourism is now a fast growing industry with billions of dollars in sales each year, it is like most other things in life. Where you find advantages to the system, you will also find disadvantages to the system. Today, many people are travelling to foreign hospitals for surgeries and medical treatments that cannot get at home, cannot afford at home, or may encounter wait times due to the high demand of the services. While this seems like a great solution, usually the decision to do this is based on finances and that is not always the only thing to base your medical services on.
As you may or may not know, not all countries are created equal when it comes to licensing boards and educational systems. Going to a foreign country for medical treatment, no matter how luxurious it is or how much cheaper your treatment may be, it may not always outweigh conditions you may find there. Some of the disadvantages to obtaining medical treatment in foreign countries include:
- Not all countries have the same educational or certification standards as your home country does. While the United States and Europe are typically on par with similar requirements, the same cannot always be said for countries in other locations. While many physicians in these locations are very talented and fully qualified to perform your procedures, it pays to check around on credentials. Begin with your family practice doctor, who can often give you the right questions to ask.
- Less emphasis on post-operative care. The foreign hospitals get you in quickly, but also get you out quickly providing you with little or minimal care after the service has been delivered. You are left to fend for yourself for the most part, and unless something serious develops, you must monitor your own recovery. They may bring you in and ship you out. Therefore, the better candidates for receiving some services overseas may be those who are more educated about their health conditions or more proactive about lining up the needed recovery care.
- You may find your immunity is not equipped to fight viruses and infections encountered in a strange land. The timeframe around receiving medical care leaves you open to infections, just at a time when you have lower resistance to disease. This can result in serious infections that often remain untreated until the patient returns home and has the added expense of medical treatment at home.
- You will likely be travelling immediately after a medical procedure. Whether it is from the medical center to you recovery destination, or hopping on a plane back home, being sedentary for long periods of time is always risky, even more so after major medical care. This could result in you suffering a pulmonary embolism, blood clots, or haemorrhaging or undue swelling, which is some surgeries, could result in serious complications.
- And last but not least, by seeking medical treatment in foreign lands you would have very little legal recourse available to you should anything go horribly wrong. You give that up when you decide to shop outside your home country and the protection it offers.
Today, because the numbers are growing and more and more people are travelling to foreign hospitals for medical treatment, the word “Malpractice” has come into play in a big way. Governments all over the world are watching as this industry grows alongside the medical tourism industries. Unfortunately, when a procedure goes horribly wrong, the only recourse open to most patients is the legal avenue of “Malpractice”, which often results in nothing or little being done. As with most things in life, these foreign treatment centers have a tendency to sell the advantages and avoid the disadvantages when advertising what they can do for the patient. Often “Malpractice” laws are different in every country so you may find yourself not only paying additional medical expenses at home for additional surgery, once botched, but you may also find yourself not able to recoup any of your losses either.