POPULAR MEDICAL TOURISM PROCEDURES
A person could become a medical tourist for many different reasons, but there are a few common procedures people seek out, including:
- Cosmetic surgeries, including breast augmentation, liposuction, facelifts, tummy tucks, eyelid surgeries, and nose reshaping
- Non-cosmetic surgeries, such as heart or orthopedic surgeries
- Organ and tissue transplants
- Cancer treatment
- Dental procedures
- Fertility treatments, including in vitro fertilization (IVF), other assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs), and surrogate pregnancy
TOP MEDICAL TOURISM LOCATIONS
According to the ASPS, popular cosmetic surgery tourism locations include Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Malaysia, Mexico, Philippines, Poland, South Africa, and Thailand. The CDC also lists Cuba, India, and Singapore as other popular medical tourism locations.
RISKS OF MEDICAL TOURISM
While receiving medical care abroad may have certain benefits, it also has its fair share of risks.
Recent reports of infections and other adverse events from surgeries and dental procedures are done abroad have highlighted the risks of medical tourism.
Although risks vary by where a person goes for medical care, some general medical tourism risks include:
- Communication problems: Going to a country or medical provider that speaks a language you are not fluent in will make communication more challenging and increase misunderstandings.
- Medications: Medications may be of poorer quality or even counterfeit in some countries. Drugs are typically not subjected to the same level of regulatory scrutiny as in the U.S.
- Infection risk: Complications, including infection, can occur with any surgery, but infection risks may be higher abroad. Infections include wound infections, bloodstream infections, donor-derived infections, and infection with bloodborne pathogens (such as hepatitis viruses and HIV).
- Antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections: There may be different resistant bacteria or a higher risk of contracting resistant bacteria in other countries. While antibiotic resistance is a global problem, the types of resistant bacteria and frequency vary in each country.
- Travel-related health risks: Medical tourists may be exposed to infectious diseases in the countries they travel to and potentially pose public health risks when they return home.
- Flying home: Flying soon after surgery can increase your risk of developing blood clots that can be dangerous, such as deep vein thrombi and pulmonary emboli. According to the CDC, medical tourists should not fly for 10 days after a chest or abdominal surgery to reduce risks associated with atmospheric pressure changes experienced while flying. The ASPS advises that medical tourists wait 7-10 days after cosmetic procedures and laser treatments before flying.
- Needing additional procedures: If the surgery or procedure did not go well, additional procedures might be needed in your home country to fix the problems. This could add up to more than the original surgery would have cost in your home county and may leave you with lasting problems.
MEDICAL TOURIST PRECAUTIONS
Before deciding to become a medical tourist, be sure to consider the following precautionary measures recommended by the CDC to look out for your safety:
- Talk to your doctor before making any decisions about medical care.
- Make sure your doctors know about your plans to travel for medical care abroad.
- Make sure any medical conditions you have are well controlled.
- Some international transplant programs are considered unsafe and unethical by transplant professionals due to the poor quality or handling of the harvested organs and lack of standardization concerning how they were obtained.
- Visit a travel medicine doctor at least 4–6 weeks before traveling to discuss specific risks of the procedure, the area you are traveling to, and aftercare from the procedure. They may also discuss how to have a healthy trip and recommend certain vaccines based on traveling.
- Check the qualifications of the healthcare provider who will be performing your procedure and check the credentials of the facility where the treatment will be done. Standards vary by country, and facilities abroad may not maintain accreditation or provider licensure, track patient outcomes, have formal security policies, or maintain formal medical records. You can check accreditation standards listed by groups such as the International Society for Quality in Healthcare, DNV International Accreditation for Hospitals, and Joint Commission International.
- Have a written agreement with the health care facility or group arranging the trip that states the treatment, supplies, and care you will receive under the cost of the trip.
- If traveling to a country where you do not speak the language, be sure to arrange how you will communicate before traveling.
- Take copies of your medical records, including lab work, other medical care you have received related to the illness you seek help with, and any allergies you have.
- Bring copies of all prescription medications and a list of all medications you take; be sure to include the brand name(s), generic name, manufacturer, and dosage of each medication.
- Arrange for follow-up care with your doctor once you return home before you travel.
- Find out if vacation activities, such as drinking alcohol, swimming, or sunbathing, are permitted after your surgery or procedure.
- Get copies of all medical records from the facility abroad before returning home.
- If you suspect you are experiencing any complications, seek prompt medical care to avoid further complications and have a better outcome.
The ASPS has a patient safety checklist and a list of questions to ask before deciding on cosmetic surgery. Still, their advice can be applied to any medical tourism surgery or procedure.
The lists can be found here: https://d2wirczt3b6wjm.cloudfront.net/Patient-Safety/asps-plastic-surgery-tourism-facts.pdf.
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Downey, Susan. “Medical Tourism.” American Society of Plastic Surgeons. https://d2wirczt3b6wjm.cloudfront.net/Patient-Safety/asps-plastic-surgery-tourism-facts.pdf (accessed March 1, 2021).
“Medical Tourism: Getting Medical Care in Another Country.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. October 23, 2017. https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/medical-tourism (accessed March 1, 2021).
Meštrović, Tomislav. “What Is Medical Tourism?” News-Medical. August 23, 2018. https://www.news-medical.net/health/What-is-Medical-Tourism.aspx (accessed March 1, 2021).
Tatum, Megan. “Will Medical Tourism Survive COVID-19?” The BMJ. July 10, 2020. https://www.bmj.com/content/370/bmj.m2677 (accessed March 1, 2021).
“Whitlock, Jennifer. “Risks and Benefits of Medical Tourism.” VeryWellHealth. May 7, 2020. https://www.verywellhealth.com/understanding-medical-tourism-4069869 (accessed March 1, 2021).
Yeginsu, Ceylan. “Why Medical Tourism Is Drawing Patients, Even in a Pandemic.” The New York Times. January 19, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/19/travel/medical-tourism-coronavirus-pandemic.html (accessed March 5, 2021).
International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers (IAMAT), 1623 Military Rd. #279, Niagara Falls, NY, 14304-1745, (716 )754-4883, https://www.iamat.org/.
Medical Tourism Association (MTA), 12856 82nd Ln N, West Palm Beach, FL, 33412, (561) 791-2000, https://www.medicaltourism.com/mta/home.