In our increasingly connected world, it’s become more and more common to hear of individuals seeking medical care beyond the confines of their country of origin. Many have started to ask themselves, is it wrong to look for cheaper, faster healthcare internationally? Traveling abroad for healthcare is called medical tourism, and it currently resides in a grey area in medicine.
Simply searching for specific surgical services on the Internet reveals many possible destinations and procedures available for an out-of-pocket fee on an expedited timeline. Some services offer transportation and hotel rooms. Others are located in desirable destinations, from exotic beaches to well-known landmarks. However, there are a few drawbacks that should be considered before heading to a foreign country for medical care.
Going to another country for surgery takes away from the patient-doctor interaction in many ways. For bariatric surgery, most programs in the United States require their patients to participate in a dietary management program before and after surgery. This includes multiple follow-ups along with dietary education. If a complication develops or weight loss is not adequate, getting back to see your surgeon is very important. Having a positive patient-physician rapport is the key to successful bariatric surgery and is crucial in many surgical fields. International surgery means being tied to a physician via the phone or another long trip. If there is a complication or an emergency, the patient will have to go to their local hospital for treatment. Figuring out what the other physician has done can lead to a delayed diagnosis or even a misdiagnosis. Similar situations can be seen in transplant surgery or even plastic surgery.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) lists recommendations on their website if considering medical tourism while warning of multiple pitfalls. They report that communication may be a potential problem. Getting a medical history in another language can be complicated, even if using an interpreter. Medical language doesn’t always easily translate into the vernacular.
The CDC warns that some countries don’t have standards for re-using equipment such as needles or other injectables. This could lead to transmissible diseases such as HIV or Hepatitis being transferred to patients. Some countries may not screen their donated blood supply for these transmissible diseases, which puts the patient at risk should they need a transfusion.
Another issue the CDC warns of is differing antibiotic resistant organisms in different regions of the world. Coming back to your country after surgery with one of these infections could lead to delayed treatment and even further complications as the physician waits for cultures of the infection to grow in the lab.
Although medical tourism may sound appealing because of the destinations, prompt service, and cheap prices, there are several drawbacks to going abroad for surgery or care. Weigh out the risks and the benefits of having surgery outside of your country before embarking on this journey. Consider seeing a local physician, who may be able to provide the same services and who will be easier to access should a problem arise. If you decide to have a procedure in another country, review the CDC website on medical tourism for potential questions to ask prior to embarking.