Medical Tourism: What Seniors Need to Know


With medical costs on the rise, seniors are looking for alternatives to save money without sacrificing their health. One such option is medical tourism. In this article, we will explore some of the factors to consider when you are deciding whether to travel abroad for a procedure. Of course, everyone’s situation is different, so, you should check with your doctor before making any final decisions.

What Is Medical Tourism?

Medical tourists are people who seek medical or dental care outside their home countries. This process can be as simple as driving across a nearby border or as complex as flying to another continent for several weeks.

What Types of Procedures Are Available?

Medical tourists can choose from medical procedures ranging from heart surgery to simple cosmetic surgery. Dental options include crowns, implants and extractions. Cardiology, orthopedic, cosmetic and dental surgeries are the most sought-after procedures, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Which Countries Are Popular Medical Tourism Destinations?

Popular medical tourism destinations include Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Cuba, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Singapore and Thailand, according to the CDC. Medical tourists also seek care in many other countries, including Belgium, Dubai, the Philippines, Poland and even the United States.


Potential Advantages of Medical Tourism

Cost – The vast majority of medical tourists are turning to medical travel to save money. The cost of an elective procedure, such as a hip replacement or face lift, is much lower in many other countries, even with hotel and travel costs factored in.

Availability of Procedures – Some medical tourists choose to go to the U. S. or other countries because the waiting list for the procedure they need is months long. In some cases, patients seek care in other countries because the procedure they wish to have is unavailable in their home country or because it is not covered by their health insurance.

Insurance Incentives – A few insurers in the U. S., such as Blue Cross Blue Shield, WellPoint and United Group Program, are experimenting with offering their customers the option to have procedures done in other countries, according to a 2009 report by the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions.

Quality of Care – Medical tourists sometimes travel to seek medical care because they believe they will get better care in another country.

Travel Opportunities – A small number of medical tourists find the idea of combining medical treatment with a vacation appealing.

Potential Disadvantages of Medical Tourism

Legal Issues – If something goes wrong with your medical treatment, you will have little legal recourse in your host country, and none at home. Consider buying a medical malpractice insurance policy before you travel.

Language Barriers – You may not be able to communicate as effectively with your care team as you would at home.

Differences in Medical Care – In some countries, practices such as re-using hypodermic needles are permitted. In others, patients are expected to provide personal supplies, including pajamas and towels, for hospital stays.

Post-Treatment Complications – Should you experience complications following your treatment, you may have difficulty finding a doctor at home who will work with you. It is important to consider this possibility before you arrange you medical travel.

Ethical Considerations – If you are considering organ transplantation outside of your home country, you should be aware that organ trafficking, while illegal, does exist. Be sure to ask around to make sure that you are not put in a situation that you don’t feel comfortable with.

A Few Issues to Consider

Consult with your own doctor first – Several weeks before you plan to travel, make an appointment with your doctor and talk frankly about your health concerns and the medical tourism option. Be sure you understand the procedure you wish to have, typical recovery time, restrictions on activities and possible complications.

Set up a Q&A discussion with your prospective provider – Find out whether he or she is licensed and accredited and ask about your procedure, pre and post-operative care and recuperation time. Find out about the advisability of vacationing after your procedure and discuss your flight plans.

Use an accredited hospital – Many hospitals around the world that accept medical tourists have obtained accreditation from the Joint Commission International or the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Others are affiliated with U. S. or Canadian hospitals.

Consider traveling with a companion – You will need someone to advocate for you, look after you as you recuperate and help out if complications arise. Your companion should spend most of his or her time with you, not sightseeing.

Insist on a written agreement for your medical care – Ask for a contract that explains which services and supplies will be provided and how much they will cost. Plan to bring any personal or medical supplies not provided by your hospital with you from home.

Carry copies of all medical records and prescriptions – Having a complete copy of your medical record and prescriptions list will help your medical team provide you with the best possible care.

Apply for your passport and visas – If you don’t have a passport or yours will expire within the next several months, you will need to apply for a new one. Many countries, including Brazil, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, require that your passport be valid for at least six months beyond your arrival date. Some countries, including Brazil and India, also require visas.

Consider working with a medical concierge or medical tourism company – Companies such as MedRetreat and Cosmetic Surgery Travel help you set up your medical procedure, find lodging and get from place to place while you are in your destination country.

Don’t over-plan the tourism portion of your trip – You may discover that you need extra rest or be told that you must avoid strenuous activity and heavy lifting. While these restrictions might cramp your travel style, they will help you heal quickly.

Decide what you will do if complications arise – Discuss possible complications with your doctor. Do your best to allow extra time in your schedule in case your recovery takes longer than expected or you develop a post-operative illness or infection. Share your plans with your travel companion or medical concierge before you leave home.

Have you traveled to another country for medical or dental care? How did it work out? Do you have any medical tourism tips to offer? Share them with the community in the comments section below.


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