Healthcare in the United States is ranked 37th worldwide. This shocking statistic is just one of the reasons why many individuals participate in medical tourism: the act of leaving the country to receive medical treatment. This is not always a negative, but there are many situations where individuals receive inferior care due to medical tourism. Cosmetic procedures are perhaps the biggest offenders, with many individuals opting to get surgeries in other countries where domestic healthcare plans will not cover the costs.
Today, we will discuss cosmetic medical tourism in detail by defining the term in depth, discussing some of the reasons why some people participate in medical tourism, some of the most popular health tourism destinations, and ultimately why medical tourism can be dangerous and should be avoided in most cases.
What is Medical Tourism?
According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Medical tourism refers to traveling to another country for medical care. It’s estimated that thousands of US residents travel abroad for care each year.” This simple definition belies the complexities of the issue. For one, individuals who are US citizens may not be protected legally when receiving healthcare overseas. Despite the risks involved, thousands of Americans travel abroad to receive both elective and mandatory healthcare.
Medical tourism is particularly prominent for cosmetic procedures. In fact, some hot spots for cosmetic medical tourism are now offering all-inclusive vacation packages for those undergoing cosmetic surgery. This highlights the reality that medical tourism is a lucrative business in many regions of the world.
Why Medical Tourism Remains Popular
So why would anyone continue to leave their home country to seek medical treatment? There are a few key reasons why people continue to come to the US or leave the US for medical care, including:
Lower medical costs: the number one reason for medical tourism is almost certainly individuals looking for comparable procedures for lower costs. Any American knows that our healthcare system can be costly and complex.
Greater personal comfort: many American residents and citizens were born in other countries or lived in other countries for large portions of their lives. These individuals may feel more comfortable receiving care elsewhere.
Traveling for greater options: Americans tend to believe that our way is the best, but that 37th ranking wasn’t made in error. Certain treatments are either unavailable in the US or are not up to the standards of other locations around the globe.
Common Medical Tourism Destinations
India has become one of the most prominent destinations for medical tourism due to its combination of affordable procedures and advanced technology. This comes with the caveat that India is a huge country with many medical centers offering a wide range of medical care with a wide range of effectiveness. There are fewer medical regulations and the overall medical care offered in this region is generally considered to be substandard.
Columbia is perhaps the most well known medical tourism destination on the planet alongside its neighboring country Brazil. Much like India, Columbia offers a mixed bag when it comes to health tourism. Cosmetic procedures are big business in South America, meaning that some of the best and worst experiences available exist within a single nation. Where Columbia sees medical tourism as a vacation experience, individuals who have had negative experiences and botched surgeries might feel otherwise.
Another common destination for cosmetic tourism is Mexico. Being a neighbor to the relatively rich US, with far fewer federal medical regulations, makes Mexico an interesting player in the health tourism game. There are certainly reputable facilities, but the dangers again come with the money to be made from shoddy, cheaply performed procedures.
The Risks of Medical Tourism
We have mentioned some of the risks of medical tourism, but what do those risks really look like? Here are some risks that individuals and medical professionals know when it comes to medical tourism:
- Language barriers can prevent doctor-patient communication. It isn’t until you are about to have surgery that you realize how important verbal communication with your doctor truly is!
- Issues with substandard medication and medical equipment. Despite the relatively low global ranking of the US health system, it is well regulated. Medication is almost guaranteed to be what it is supposed to be, and most modern medical facilities are well equipped.
- Medical tourism requires traveling after your procedure. Invasive cosmetic procedures can entail lengthy recovery periods. Unless you are planning a month long vacation, you might be enduring a flight or car ride home with stitches and a bad attitude.
- Illness: antibiotic resistance and global disease are certainly considerations for any medical tourism trips.
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