Advantages of Medical Tourism
Can you really travel to a foreign destination for a vacation and receive high-quality medical care at the same time? That’s the question many people raise when the subject of medical tourism comes up.
Many people are skeptical of medical tourism, and understandably so. When you receive medical care in your home country, you’ll naturally feel more comfortable with the treatment process. However, there are many advantages that medical tourism can offer.
For some patients, traveling to a different country for medical care is a worthwhile task. Keep reading to learn more.
What is Medical Tourism?
Medical tourism is a term used to describe the action of traveling internationally for medical care.
What Are The Benefits of Medical Tourism?
The following benefits are attributed to the popularity of medical tourism for USA patients:
- Affordable care
This is the key benefit of medical tourism. Many people can attain high-quality medical care at a fraction of the cost by traveling overseas. This particularly applies to patients in the U.S., which lacks a public healthcare system.
- High-quality care
The quality of care should always be the primary consideration in medical tourism. There are first-rate medical facilities and health care professionals in many areas across the globe. Some of these areas, which are widely considered to be the best countries for medical tourism, include Germany, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Israel, India, Thailand, Singapore, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Cyprus.
- Advanced treatments
Different areas of the world have different medical regulatory bodies. Here in the United States, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) protects Americans’ health by regulating drugs, biological products, medical devices, food, cosmetics, and even certain electric products.
In many instances, medical innovations have been developed, proven to be successful, and used for many years in other areas of the world. But, with the FDA’s regulatory processes, it can take a long time for those proven medical solutions to become available in the United States. This can also apply to residents of other countries who don’t have access to many of the advanced medical treatments in the United States.
Medical tourism can give patients access to the latest medical technology and, as a result, a higher quality of care.
Why is Medical Tourism Popular?
The United States has the most expensive healthcare in the world. So, while few people would consider medical tourism to the U.S., many Americans contemplate international travel to lower their medical expenses.
Medical Tourism Statistics
When considering traveling internationally for a procedure, it’s wise to consider medical tourism examples and statistics.
- In 2017, over 1.4 million Americans sought out medical care from various medical tourism countries around the globe.
- According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 12 to 14 million people travel abroad annually for medical care.
- Many countries offer certain medical procedures at 30% to 65% of the cost of care in the U.S.
- The worldwide medical tourism market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 32.51% between 2022 and 2030.
Which Choice Factors Are The Most Important To Medical Tourism Consumers?
Consumers who are interested in medical tourism value a variety of factors. The most prominent of these factors include:
Finances are arguably the most important factor to medical tourism consumers. In fact, in a study from the Medical Tourism Association, 85% of surveyed patients who traveled overseas to a hospital reported that the cost of medical care was a very important deciding factor.
The healthcare system in the United States leaves an estimated 9.6% of residents without health insurance, as of 2021. Even among individuals who do have health insurance coverage, high co-pays and deductibles can make it difficult to afford medical care.
With these facts in mind, it’s unsurprising that cost is a crucial factor for medical tourism consumers. Above all, these consumers want to secure an affordable price for medical care by traveling overseas.
- Quality of care
Quality of care is paramount for many medical tourism consumers. By traveling to other countries, patients can attain a higher quality of care (at a lower cost) when compared to the medical treatment available in their home countries.
However, without the assurances that Americans are accustomed to under the FDA, consumers must consider the laws and regulations surrounding medical care in the country that they’re traveling to, as well as the foreign practice’s certifications.
- Treatment availability
While discussing the benefits of medical tourism, we mentioned that it can grant patients access to advanced treatments that aren’t available in their home country. With this in mind, the treatments available in other countries are a key consideration for medical tourism consumers.
- Waiting lists
Waiting lists for health care services are another consideration among medical tourism consumers. As of 2022, in the United States, 28% of patients sometimes, rarely, or never receive a response from their primary physician on the same day. This is a high percentage when compared to many other areas of the globe. However, 27% of patients in the U.S. wait one month or more for a specialist appointment, which is a lower percentage than in many other countries, including Norway and Canada.
With that said, long wait lists are primarily a concern for medical tourism consumers in nations with public healthcare systems.
What Are The Risks of Medical Tourism?
Although medical tourism can provide several benefits, it also presents certain risks and safety concerns, including:
- Infectious disease
Some countries have a risk of complications including HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, blood infections, wound infections, and infections from donor tissue or blood.
- Communication difficulties
If patients travel to a facility using a language that they don’t speak fluently, doctor-patient communication can be difficult. Given that doctors provide crucial pre-op and post-op information, as well as procedure specifics, this may lead to confusion and errors.
- Quality of care
Certain areas may not have comparable requirements for medical licensing and accreditation. This creates the risk of low quality of care.
- Flying after a procedure
Doctors typically advise against air travel immediately after surgery. This is because flying raises the risk of developing a blood clot. Depending on the type of surgical procedure, patients should wait between seven and 10 days before flying.
To avoid these risks, medical tourism consumers should ensure that:
- The medical facility has been accredited by the Joint Commission International
- The medical facility utilizes the World Health Organization Checklist
- The staff at the facility follows stringent sanitation, disinfection, and hygiene measures
- The provider is board-certified and internationally-recognized
What Is The Best Country For Medical Tourism If You Need a Spine Surgery?
As we’ve already mentioned, a significant benefit of medical tourism is that you can gain access to treatments that have not yet or have only recently been, approved for use in your country. Procedures that have been proven effective and are widely used in certain areas of the world can often benefit international patients.
The TOPS™ (Total Posterior Solution) procedure, performed in association with spinal decompression surgery, is an example of a procedure that has been used extensively in Europe but not yet in the United States. TOPS is an alternative to spinal fusion back surgery.
Spinal fusion is widely used with spinal decompression procedures for conditions like spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, bone spurs, and more. Unfortunately, fusion can severely limit patients’ range of motion in the back. Additionally, the complete recovery process for spinal fusion may last for six months to a year.
The TOPS System preserves the full range of motion between the individual vertebral segments, unlike spinal fusion. It involves a minimally-invasive surgical procedure, which greatly shortens the spinal surgery recovery period. In fact, patients may start moving around the day after TOPS surgery with few, if any, restrictions.
For certain patients with specific medical conditions, medical tourism could be the ticket to high-quality, low-cost healthcare. If you think you may benefit from medical tourism, make sure to conduct thorough research, find an accredited facility, and evaluate all of the risks before scheduling your appointment abroad.