The Rise of Medical Tourism: Shopping the World for Medical Procedure Bargains
Travel around the world being easier and cheaper has a number of interesting consequences. One is that Germans might take a vacation in the Czech Republic to get breast implants or an American heads to Costa Rica for a hip replacement. These situations and many more form medical tourism, a growing cottage industry and new reason for many people to travel.
I’ve never traveled anywhere to have a medical procedure done. In fact, I think I’m probably something of a medical coward and try my best to avoid needing medical treatment in another country at all. But I can understand why some people choose to head to another country for medical treatment: it is usually cheaper, the quality can be as good or better than at home, there could be a very minimal waiting list and on top of it all — you can start off with a bit of a holiday first.
Obviously, it’s nearly always people from more affluent countries who head to a slightly less affluent country to get some medical procedure done. A number of otherwise wealthy Western nations have health care systems that are really starting to struggle, so patients from the United States or the United Kingdom are increasingly tempted to travel to Latin America, eastern Europe or Asia for elective surgery and other medical treatments.
This avoids problems of insurance not covering treatment in your home country, when it’s often cheaper to just pay the full cost in another country. It can also help speed up the time it takes to get treatment when your home country has long waiting lists for non-critical surgery or elective procedures.
What Op Where?
Particular countries are getting reputations for particular types of medical treatment. Here’s a sample of which destinations are targets for medical tourists:
Colombia has highly skilled medical staff but low salaries, so it has been a popular destination for a long time for people wanting cosmetic surgery, eye operations, cardiovascular surgery and even transplants — because donated organs there are even available to foreigners.
Hungary is a good place to go for dental treatment, where the dentists are extremely well trained and procedures would cost about 30% of what a British person would have to pay at home.
India also has good training but low labor costs, and US citizens regularly fly there for heart surgery and other high-end operations.
Thailand is so proficient at medical tourism that several hospitals have special wings for foreigners and numerous translators, and travelers from Asia, Australia and further afield flock there for pretty much any kind of medical treatment you can imagine.
Costa Rica is a popular spot for Americans to get dental treatment (it’s 80% cheaper than in the US), and orthopedic surgery like getting a knee replacement, as well as cosmetic surgery, is also common.
The Czech Republic is well-located for Western Europeans to visit for surgeries, and cosmetic surgeries including breast enlargements are popular here, as they’re still considerably cheaper than in the western neighbors.
Mexico, being nice and close to the United States, is also popular for dental treatment, and was long a destination of choice for patients wanting lap band surgery to help them lose weight.
If it was all such a great idea, we would all be adding some medical treatment on to the end of our regular overseas vacation. Obviously, not everyone believes it’s such a great idea.
As with any medical treatment or surgery, there are risks. When you’re in a foreign country, the risks become a little bit higher, because apart from anything else you’ll have to travel back to your own country, often shortly after surgery.
If you pick the wrong hospital or not the best doctor, things can go terribly wrong. There are horror tales around of people who’ve traveled to another country for cosmetic surgery — and probably paid a real “bargain” price for it — and have ended up having to have the surgery re-done in their home country, at a considerably higher price and often with lasting side effects or scars. Legally, you probably have little recourse to get any compensation from doctors who botch your surgery if it’s done in a country where the laws are less protective of patients.
On top of all that, there’s the risk of picking up a local infectious disease — one that regular locals have simply built up immunity for over time, but you as a foreigner are really susceptible to, especially if you’re getting medical treatment or having surgery.
Would You Be A Medical Tourist?
It depends, of course. For me, it’s definitely not something I’m keen on. The only aspect that attracts me is that it can be a good excuse to have a holiday in a foreign country; I just don’t want the operation or procedure that goes with it.
For anyone who’s seriously considering being a medical tourist, the experts all agree on one thing: do your research really well. Talk to people who’ve had procedures at the hospital or with the doctor you want, and check that everything goes as smoothly as it should. Don’t go for the absolute cheapest option — your health is worth more than money.
Anyone already done some medical tourism or considering it? Would you consider it if you needed a particular operation? Tell us about it in the comments.