Medical Tourism

By Lily Bourne

The gorgeous sceneries and engaging cultures of many foreign countries attract millions of tourists every year, but another underlying factor brings in many additional eager visitors: medical benefits. Countries like Malaysia, Thailand, and Costa Rica, while known for their beaches and rainforests, also offer cheaper access to cosmetic surgery, dental care, organ transplants, and even cancer treatment. Medical tourism has become an increasingly popular phenomenon as US citizens travel to foreign countries to combat rising healthcare costs while facing the many possible risks associated with their travel. 

Although it may seem impractical, medical tourism remains popular for a reason. Patients can save up to 90% of their bills when traveling to another country, and can often afford a plane ticket with extra money to spare. Especially when insurance, medications, and procedural costs are particularly high, many US citizens have looked to medical tourism for a lower-cost alternative. Some insurance providers have even begun encouraging this practice, as it saves money for both the patient and the agency. However, money isn’t the only reason why many make the choice to travel for procedures. Some foreign hospitals have higher quality care, with the money made from medical tourism being re-invested into the hospitals and their patients. Many of the top medical destinations are also top vacation destinations for a reason, as they already have a strong tourism infrastructure in place. These countries are often known for their medical advancements and boast international accreditations as an extra measure of security. The US provides JCI (Joint Commission International) accreditations to hospitals that meet the standards of those in the US, providing a more reliable network of foreign clinics for patients. Cosmetic surgery is especially common in medical tourism, as patients travel to countries like Turkey, the Czech Republic, and Brazil for plastic surgery from surgeons who are considered more talented than those found in the US. Other cosmetic surgeries, like gender reassignment, draw patients to foreign countries as it is easier to qualify and cheaper. 

With all of these positive outcomes, the negatives begin to take shape in mostly safety concerns. The risk of catching bloodborne infections increases in many of the popular countries, resulting in outbreaks spreading among patients. Additionally, flying in an airplane too soon after surgery can cause major complications and lead to blood clots. Another risk comes in the form of potential language barriers, which make it difficult for patient-professional conversations. This also makes it much more difficult for medical tourists to determine the legitimacy of the healthcare professionals they are placing their trust in. In the same vein, transplant tourism has become increasingly popular even as professionals warn against it. Both India and China use illegitimate means to harvest organs from “donors” (often political prisoners or people being scammed) and sell them on black markets. These organs are often dangerous as they can carry diseases and have a higher risk of death for the transplant patient. 

While medical tourism has its positives and negatives, it is seen as a relatively safe idea if done correctly. Sites like Patients Beyond Borders provide information on trusted foreign medical facilities, which is incredibly crucial for prospective patients. If you decide to travel to another country for cheaper, better medical care, make sure to research and take the proper precautions to protect yourself first!