What Is Medical Tourism?

Be it heart valve replacement surgeries in Thailand, weight loss surgeries in Mexico or hip resurfacing in India, it is clear that more Americans than ever before are crossing international borders and going overseas for medical treatment. 2013 alone has recorded over 900 thousand Americans who went abroad looking for medical care. In total, over 11 million people all over the world have crossed borders in 2014 seeking healthcare services in another country.

What is medical tourism anyway? By definition created by travel agencies and mass media, it is a form of tourism that includes the practice of travelling all over the world in search of better healthcare service options.

So why are patients leaving their countries in such high numbers and traveling to distant destinations in Asia, Europe and South America? Here is a list of some of the main reasons:

1. Cost Savings

People want to get the most value out of their money. For patients with no or with limited insurance as well as patients who go abroad seeking elective treatments, the savings can be anywhere between 15 and 85 percent compared to the prices they would otherwise have to pay in the US hospitals, depending on their choice of country and type of procedure.

As top quality medical care options around the world keep increasing and offering massive discounts, smart patients are always on the lookout for an alternative abroad.

2. Better Quality Care

Every year, people with limited access to quality treatment and diagnostics in their home countries cross the borders in order to get quality healthcare services. They usually travel to a nearby or contiguous location that is well known for higher healthcare quality. As an example, over half a million Indonesians visit Malaysia and Singapore each year in order to use their general care as well as treatments that aren’t yet available back home. Over in the US, over half a million Americans travel to Mexico each year in order to get dental and cosmetic procedures. Mexico’s long tradition of high quality care is fully accessible to anyone who does the required research beforehand.

3. Improved Patient Experience

Patients that stay at hospitals and clinics whose service is focused on catering to the international patients tend to feel as if they’re staying at a hotel, rather than a lab. It is often surprising to medical travelers to see shorter wait times for their appointments, better food, increased consultation time with specialists as well as lower nurse to patient ratios. Facilities, client service and instrumentation available in international treatment facilities also tend to match or even surpass those found in developed countries, which is a well known fact to veteran medical tourists. The staff and physicians in these medical facilities also tend to be much more available to patients before and after their procedures compared to the facilities in the United States.

4. Access to Elective Treatments at a Lower Cost

The vast majority of healthcare plans do not include a lot of services such as cosmetic surgery, dental care, hearing and vision treatments, fertility and other reproductive procedures, weight loss programs, prosthetics, substance abuse rehabilitation as well as some non emergency orthopedic and cardiovascular treatments. Over 70 percent of patients from the United States that travel to international destinations do so seeking elective procedures.

5. Access to Specialty Treatments

People who are looking for the high end options may find themselves limited in terms of choices when it comes to procedures and prescriptions in their home country. For instance, the United States are yet to approve certain types of stem cell treatments and regenerative therapies for treatment of cancer. As such, Americans now tend to go overseas to have these procedures done at high quality medical centers such as the ones in the nearby Bahamas or in the distant Singapore.

6. Shorter Waiting Periods

British and Canadian users of their universal healthcare plans can find themselves waiting for routine procedures, sometimes up to two years. Furthermore, wait times are also becoming an increasing issue in the United States, especially as the demand for some of these procedures has started to go up with the introduction of Obamacare. As a result, many patients opt to pay for these procedures on their own at an overseas location in order to avoid waiting for too long and reduce their suffering or to prevent their condition from getting any worse in the long run.

7. More Inpatient Friendly

It is often the case to see hospitals in countries like the United States or the UK under severe pressure from the insurers to process patients as fast as possible in order to reuse their expensive hospital beds as much as possible. As such, this often leads to insufficient recovery time for the patients. Meanwhile overseas, medical travelers are welcome to stay in the hospital for the duration of their recovery in order to make sure everything is going well for them.

8. The Allure of Something New and Different

In some cases, just the fact that they’re visiting a new environment is enough to offer some relief from the worry and pain that some patients go through. Is is also an extremely valuable chance to experience a new culture. Some patients, under the right circumstances, even go out and do some proper tourism stuff like sightseeing.

It is important to note, though, that medical tourism is not for everyone. That said, if your healthcare plan is lacking or doesn’t exist or you’re considering an elective procedure, the rise of quality seen in recent years combined with accredited medical centers can offer healthcare options that weren’t even available to patients a mere decade ago.

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