Health-care costs in the United States are among the highest in the world, and what is covered by insurance is dwindling or being hit by higher premiums, co-pays and strict parameters. Therefore, more and more U.S. citizens are looking north to Canada or south to Mexico–or even further–to receive the medical treatment they simply cannot afford in the States.
“Medical tourism,” as it is known, is one of the fastest-growing tourist niches today. There are companies devoted to this type of travel, and do everything from set up the air travel, to the clinic appointments, to post-surgical care, to even side trips that resemble a true vacation. For example, India has been taking advantage of its low medical costs and has been touting its highly-trained medical doctors and medical experts via websites and print magazines aimed at people interested in this alternative. Even with the airfare, the cost of a surgery in India can be dramatically less than the same in the States. Amazingly, the quality of the procedure can bypass the quality found in the U.S. dramatically, as well.
Those wishing to stick closer to home have taken advantage of Mexico’s and Canada’s more-lax and definitely less-expensive pharmacies, and are willing to take a chance to obtain their medications at a fraction of the U.S. cost. Of course, with such a great deal comes a catch. Mexico, for instance, is currently in the throes of a drug cartel war, and in the city of Cuidad Juarez (directly across the Rio Grande river from El Paso, Texas) alone, more people have been murdered by these cartels in one year than the amount of those who died in the 9/11 attacks. But tourists from all over the U.S. can still be seen waiting for buses in front of downtown El Paso hotels–buses that will drive them over the border, to dentists, plastic surgeons, pharmacies or hospitals.
A hurdle in the medical travel sector is the “you get what you pay for” mentality of many U.S. potential patients. Although cheaper can be great, it can also mean inferior service and care. Ads for services abroad are constantly touting their “high-tech” facilities, training and reliability. However, one country’s “high-tech” can be another country’s “bare-bones.” It’s imperative for the U.S. potential medical tourist to research the country he or she wants to visit and to see medical customs, definitions, pain thresholds, dosages, etc.
For procedures such as face-lifts, potential patients must be aware that even though a face-lift might cost about a third the amount that it does in the U.S., post-operative procedures must be done elsewhere, as with complications that could arise. This is known as “itinerant surgery,” one that many are more than willing to gamble on.
Exposure to infectious disease in other countries is a real threat. Some countries, such as Thailand or India, have completely different epidemiology related to infectious disease, and can be a true hazard. Traveling long distances, especially by plane, can increase blood clot risk. Also, the facilities treating medical travelers may not have an adequate way of addressing complaints or concerns. Overworked employees or understaffed clinics are quite common in South America, and registration requirements for staff can vary from location to location.
In short, it’s a gamble to travel abroad for care, despite the lower cost. To minimize danger, it is up to you to do all the research you can, get feedback from others who have “been there-done that,” and realize that each location has its own set of rules, procedures and beliefs not controlled by governmental laws.