Medical treatment abroad, also called ‘medical tourism’, is a booming international industry where patients seek healthcare from sources outside their country. Usually every type of medical treatment is available abroad with over 50 countries identifying as destinations in medical tourism.
New countries are quickly joining the medical tourism industry. New Zealand is one of the recently arising destinations for medical treatment abroad for North American based patients and an example of an international healthcare service that still has a first world economy but 20% off the price. Taiwan and Uruguay have also joined the explosive industry, investing funding and private medical tourism initiatives into their services.
Travelling is not the first thing that comes to mind when planning a medical procedure. In comparison for procedures in the UK or US, medical treatment abroad can be a viable and worthwhile choice. Canada, compared to UK and US costs, is around 30-60% cheaper and has also been cited to have quality healthcare that is equal, if not greater, to US healthcare. India also gains 45% of health tourists from abroad with prices at around a tenth cheaper than the US and UK, known for its advanced medicine and heart surgery.
The growing industry means that countries are now specialising in treatments. Korea provides one of the highest standards of cosmetic surgery and China provides several specialities such as cardiology, neurology and orthopaedics. China will often combine their treatment with traditional Chinese medicine, adding a touch of culture to the medical tourism industry.
Benefits and Risk in Medical Tourism
The main reason for the popularity of medical tourism is the price. Countries offering medical treatment abroad boast competitive rates for procedures, usually offering prices a tenth of that to US or UK payment or perhaps even less.
Countries without public healthcare systems can also offer patients from abroad the option of skipping the waiting list. Non-urgent surgeries in the UK could sometimes mean a wait up to 16 months but, in countries around the Asian continent or other parts of Europe, there is no wait. Wealthy patients can find that they can have their surgery completed the next morning after they arrive.
A popular addition to medical tourism is the informal lines in which providers and customers communicate. While this means medical treatment abroad is on average quicker and more ‘laid back’, lack of adequate communications does produce less legal oversight and legal complications.
An often problematic part of medical tourism is the risk of infectious diseases and a different epidemiology to North American or the UK. Exposure of disease in a foreign country, without having built up natural immunity, can be particularly dangerous to patients already weakened by surgery. Diseases such as flu, tuberculosis, typhoid and mosquito-transmitted infections are more common abroad than in the UK or US. Popular destinations such as India or Malaysia can still be problematic due to different technology, procedures and medication available, even when the doctors abroad become more ‘open’ to the possibility of infectious disease.
Post-operation care has also been an area for concern in medical tourism. Quality of post-op care dramatically varies from country to country, with some meeting UK and US standards but others falling below. Travelling long distance after surgery may also cause complications.
To combat the standard of medical treatment abroad the World Health Organisation launched a guide, World Alliance for Patient Safety, to assist hospitals and doctors all over the world in providing adequate patient safety.
Some of the top destinations for medical treatment abroad are Argentina, India, Mexico, Thailand, Turkey and several other Latin American hospitals. Experts predict that for countries such as India the medical tourism industry could bring in up to $2.2 billion a year by 2012. Some of these top destinations have more registered nurses supporting doctors per patient than in the UK with most clinics providing single rooms and a dedicated nurse 24 hours a day.
These top destinations also include procedures indigenous to their country. Thailand and Latin American hospitals, while still pioneering as top destinations for popular procedures such as fertility treatment and cosmetic surgery, also provide medical spa treatments. Many countries who cater for so many patients seeking medical treatment abroad instil interpreters for more than 22 languages and English-speaking medical staff to combat language barriers.
The top procedures today include: heart surgery, cosmetic surgery, dental implants, fertility treatment and orthopaedic surgery. Countries like India are well known in the medical tourism industry for their heart surgery. Argentina is also cited as one of the leading countries for cosmetic surgery along with Mexico and Latin American countries. Most countries can offer all types of procedures with varying costs and quality.
Below are a list some of the more popular destinations for medical tourism.