Medical Tourism: How Much Do You Know?

Article Categories: Nursing Jobs & Nurse On the Job

As a Registered Nurse, you know that people assume you know everything! They can ask you to diagnose a rash or to predict the next flu outbreak. You may even be asked about the growing trend of medical tourism, which is defined as “travel to another country to seek and receive medical care.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most common procedures are cosmetic surgery, dental care, and heart surgery. Almost seven million patients from all over the world will travel to another country each year to seek affordable treatments.



Medical tourism, also called “health tourism,” is not really new. Ancient Greeks traveled to the sanctuary of the healing god, Asklepios. Europeans have always visited hot mineral springs and spas known for their reputations for treating ailments from arthritis to gout to respiratory diseases.

Why do people look abroad for health care? Cost and availability seem to motivate patients to look beyond their own providers. Here are some examples:

• Heart bypass in the U.S. costs about $123,000. The same procedure is $27,000 in Costa Rica; $14,800 in Columbia; or $7,900 in India.

• Face lift in the U.S. costs about $11,000. Go to Costa Rica for $4,500; $4,900 in Mexico; or $3,950 in Thailand.

• In-Vitro Fertilization will cost $12,400 in the U.S. Fly to Jordan or Mexico and pay $5,000; Columbia is slightly more at $5,400; or pay just $2,500 in India.

Of course, you are wondering if the quality and care are the same. In 1999, the Joint Commission launched its Joint Commission International branch. The standards and accreditation processes are the same as in the United States. More than 600 international hospitals are JCI-accredited, with an annual growth rate of 20%. Patients seeking treatment at a JCI facility can be assured of safe and high-quality care. Also, many physicians have studied and trained in the U.S. and other developed countries.

Countries that are actively building and promoting health tourism facilities often include a “health vacation” that allows patients (and whoever travels with them) to explore the country while healing, before post-op appointments.

All may seem good, but as in any medical procedure, patients should always be knowledgeable about their care, as well as be aware of possible risks:

• Facilities provide procedures and services without liability. The standard of care is high, but patients assume all risk.

• Long-distance travel is not for everyone. Going to an unfamiliar country, arranging for an interpreter, and the journey back home can be stressful.

• Should complications develop after returning home, patients may need to visit their local providers. This will require insurance coverage or the ability to pay for treatment.

With the ability for people to travel around the world, medical tourism is likely here to stay. International treatment is estimated to be worth $40 billion a year, with an annual growth rate of 25%.

What can you tell people who ask you about medical tourism? It’s not for everyone, but you can offer them some information and encourage them to do their own research before making any decisions.

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