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What Are the Risks and Benefits Associated with Medical  Tourism?

It’s crucial to weigh all the costs and benefits, not just the sticker prices.

If you need an elective medical procedure that will cost you $6,000 or more in the United States, then you can probably save money by going abroad for that treatment. You may even be able to visit an attractive travel destination while receiving higher quality care for a lower price.

Benefits of Medical Tourism

The benefits of traveling abroad for medical care include:

  1. Cost savings of at least 25% and up to 85% versus treatment in the U.S.
  2. A competitive market with many options, especially for elective procedures
  3. Internationally renowned experts in whatever specialty you are looking for
  4. Access to treatments that are unusual and/or unavailable in the U.S.
  5. Luxury and/or private treatment at hospitals that are like hotels or spas
  6. Opportunities to visit attractive vacation destinations for care and recovery

Your decision to travel abroad for medical care involves both explicit (monetary) and implicit (opportunity) costs.

Any choice that you make comes at the expense of another choice that you could have made. The best option that you do not choose is your opportunity cost. This may seem simple but it bears repeating: Don’t just take price tags at face value.

If you can receive the same high standards of care on a procedure that would cost you $20,000 in the United States for only in $7,000 in Brazil, then you are likely better off going to Brazil and saving $13,000. However, you’ll need to consider all the implicit costs of your decision, as well as the possibility that your final explicit costs will exceed the initial estimates. If one option poses greater risks to your health or safety than another, then you’ll need to compare and decide exactly what risks you are willing to take in exchange for what benefits.

For example, if traveling internationally requires you to take a lot more time off work for recovery, you’ll need to account for the opportunity cost of the lost time. If international treatment is affordable but air travel and lodging costs are prohibitive, then your actual savings may be less than expected. Air travel poses its own health risks, such as decreased circulation, changes in air pressure and humidity, and potential exposure to other passengers with communicable diseases. If distance will put undue strain on your family economically or emotionally, then international options may be less desirable. Costs of follow-up care, both to yourself and others, are another important metric to consider.

Risks of Medical Tourism

According to a 2011 Canadian focus group study, the top 5 health and safety risks of medical tourism identified by healthcare experts are:

  1. Postoperative complications and/or inadequate follow-up care at home
  2. Increased risk of infections following organ transplantation
  3. Increased risk of transmission of antibiotic-resistant organisms
  4. Possible discontinuity of medical documentation
  5. Relatively limited information for patients’ informed decision-making

A team of U.S. health experts at Henry Ford Health System identified the following as the top 5 risks:

  1. Varying safety standards and protocols across countries and facilities
  2. Uncertainty regarding the credibility of international doctors and facilities
  3. Risks due to air travel and recovery time spent abroad
  4. Lack of legal recourse and/or strict malpractice laws in some countries
  5. Communication issues and/or language barriers

What international medical facilities can I trust?

If you choose to go abroad for care, it’s a good idea to stick with facilities that are accredited by JCI or comparable organizations such as MSQH. However, this is not a hard and fast rule as there is even some uncertainty regarding the value of accreditation as an indicator of high-quality care. The above items are merely risks and depend on many factors. You can minimize your risks by doing thorough research, by obtaining clear answers to your questions in advance from any international doctors or facilities you are considering, and by utilizing the guidance of a qualified medical tourism expert. Bon voyage!

Are you ready to start your medical tourism journey? Give us a call at 1–844-SAMI-AID and we will gladly connect you with one of our medical tourism partners.

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