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Medical Tourism: What It Is and Where to Travel [a first timer’s guide]

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The growth in the popularity of medical tourism has attracted attention from the media, researchers and policymakers. Originally patients would travel from less-developed countries to more developed ones. But today patients also travel from developed countries to less-developed ones, mainly due to the lower costs of treatment.

Looking at a worldwide comparison of surgeries and their prices is astonishing. Patients can save up to 90%, one their medical procedures if they are willing to give medical travel a try. Increased marketing and online information about the availability of medical services and inexpensive flights have also brought about shifts in medical tourism.

What is medical tourism?

Medical tourism is someone travels to another country for medical care. Patients travel from their home country because care is more affordable, more available, or of a higher quality than they are able to receive in their own country, hence they are referred to as “medical tourists”. Medical tourism encompasses dental, surgical, or medical care. The word “tourism” is used because patients often stay in the country after a medical procedure for recovery and take advantage of opportunities to sightsee, take day trips and participate in cultural experiences.

Who participates in medical tourism?

Although the medical tourism industry may have began as a service for the rich,  (we’ve all seen those shows where a rich individual travels to a country for plastic surgery) Medical tourism is not just for the wealthy. Many patients from highly industrialized nations accept the inconvenience and uncertainties of traveling to a foreign country for care to take advantage of services at prices they can more comfortably afford. Julian Cheng, a recipient of care internationally, says he experienced a cost saving of about 65% by traveling to Costa Rica for dentistry.

Patients traveling from the United States to other countries usually fit one of two profiles. The first is a middle-class patient who needs elective surgical care but has no health insurance or inadequate coverage. The second group consists of patients who want gender reassignment, fertility treatment, dental reconstruction, or cosmetic surgery.

For patients from the U.K, Canada and other countries where the government controls access to health care services, the main reason for going to another country is to circumvent delays associated with long waiting lists. Patients also travel to international hospitals to have procedures that aren’t offered in their own countries or to have more privacy and confidentiality when undergoing certain procedures.

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What are the most popular countries for medical tourism?

What are the top destinations for medical tourists to visit?

The objectives of medical tourism are changing. Various countries are emerging as medical specialists in our global healthcare system –

  • people go to South Korea for plastic surgery
  • Taiwan for bone marrow transplants
  • Costa Rica for dentistry

High tech hospitals are often staffed by professionals trained in developed countries. Patients can often get good, if not better care than they receive in their home country. The Centers for Disease Control suggests finding foreign medical providers through the Joint Commission International, a U.S. based organization, that show which hospitals have international accreditation.

There are private hospitals all over the world that offer health packages for foreign patients that include pick up from the airport, five-star accommodation with free Wi-Fi in rooms, and private chefs. This kind of medical treatment takes quality care to an entirely new level.

Medical Tourism in India

India is visited by many medical tourists because it offers both affordability and quality. There is also hardly any waiting time as once a diagnosis is confirmed, surgery or intervention is done quickly, using cutting-edge technology. Many hospitals in India are accredited by the JCI and the National Accreditation Board for Hospitals and Healthcare Providers (NABH).

Medical Tourism in  Brazil

The World Health Organization regards Brazil as the best provider of healthcare in Latin America. The JCI has accredited 43 hospitals in Brazil that offer high quality cosmetic and plastic surgeries at relatively affordable rates. Sao Paulo and Florianopolis are two cities well-known for their innovation, medical advances and cutting-edge technology. World-renowned surgeons often have specialized procedures. Maisie Jacobs, a writer for ThePensters, says one of her friends went to Brazil for a procedure known as the “Brazilian butt-lift.”

Medical Tourism in  Malaysia

Malaysia was the medical tourism destination of the year in 2015 and 2016, according to the International Medical Travel Journal. It is one of the best healthcare systems and healthcare providers in South-East Asia. At the international airports in Kuala Lumpur and Penang, medical tourists are welcomed with lounge and concierge services when they arrive, courtesy of the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC). They are accommodated in luxury rooms that resemble hotel suites more than hospital rooms.

Medical Tourism in Turkey

Turkey offers affordable, quality healthcare and zero waiting times. Turkish Airlines offers discounted flights to medical tourists. Patients travel to Turkey for neurosurgery, genomic medicine, orthopedic surgery, transplant surgery and radiation therapy for cancer. The JCI has accredited 32 hospitals in Turkey, some of which have partnerships with top American hospitals like John Hopkins. They are staffed by highly-skilled, western-trained, English speaking doctors and many of the hospitals offer five-star accommodation.

Medical Tourism in Taiwan

Taiwan is on the verge of becoming a favorite destination for the treatment of cardiac disease and orthopedic conditions.
Surgeons at the Chang Gung Memorial Hospital did the first-ever pediatric liver transplant in Asia and have performed over 400 of such procedures. The first kidney transplant in Asia took place at the National Taiwan University Hospital and this hospital provides high-quality care for medical tourists.

Medical Tourism in Mexico

Mexico has 98 hospitals accredited by the Federal Health Ministry of the country and seven which are JCI-accredited. The country has a reputation for advanced care in dentistry and cosmetic surgery but is also becoming popular for orthopedic procedures.
Mexico’s proximity to the U.S. has made it a popular destination for U.S. medical tourists. Long flights may exacerbate certain ailments and the price of a plane ticket to Mexico is much cheaper than to some other destinations.

Of course there are pros and cons of medical tourism

Medical tourism comes as you may have surmised is not without risk. Think about these risks associated with medical tourism before you are quick to book that plane ticket and schedule surgery in another country.

  1. Common processes taken for granted in first world countries, like sterilization, may be more lax in other countries.
  2. Not being able to speak the language means there are risks of miscommunication and the travel itself can be demanding, especially if you’re not in the best of health.
  3. It may be challenging to get follow-up once you’re back home.
  4. Attempting legal action for malpractice in another country is difficult. There are horror stories about patients who went to another country for plastic surgery and had to be rushed to the emergency room upon return and undergo several operations to repair the damage.

Despite the risks, the advantages of medical tourism are clear – affordability, access to treatments not yet approved, less waiting time and quality of care. Quality of treatment in a foreign country is often a major concern for medical tourists. Still, many of the healthcare practitioners in developing countries receive their medical training in developed countries.

More countries around the world are starting to see the financial benefits and so they offer premium medical services at lower prices. They know they need to provide quality of service to attract patients and seek out quality assessment via accreditation from internationally recognized institutions to allay any perceptions of the inadequacy of care.

So is medical tourism right for you? That’s up to each individual the weigh the costs, benefits and risks. Medical tourism is becoming a multibillion-dollar, worldwide phenomenon and it is likely to grow substantially over the next decade. Healthcare costs are soaring in many countries, especially the United States and lower costs in other countries are attractive. In addition to cost, another major factor responsible for an increase in medical tourism is access to treatments not available at home, such as stem cell therapy.

 

Author Bio:
Michael Gorman is a UK based academic writer providing writing services to college and university students in the field of engineering, technology and medical science. He’s currently working as an essay writer for the best paper writing service and a custom essay service that provides thesis and dissertation writing help.

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About the author

Malika Bowling

Malika is the author of several books including Culinary Atlanta: Guide to the Best Restaurants, Markets, Breweries and More! and the founder of Roamilicious. She is also a Digital Marketing and Social Media Consultant. Follow us @Roamilicious on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest for the content not shared on the blog. And don't forget to subscribe to our newsletter (subscribe box below) and never miss a contest, giveaway or the latest must visit restaurant!