Medical tourism is a booming industry, with the more popular surgery destinations reporting revenues into the billions. This trend of people going overseas for medical care is nothing new, with records of ancient Greeks and Egyptians traveling to soak in healing baths and springs. Often, care overseas is conducted in a welcoming, luxe, technologically advanced hospital center for a fraction of the cost to undergo the same operation at home. These many perks have resulted in the industry's massive growth over the last decade, with numbers of patients traveling expected to increase. There are even companies in the U.S. that help to organize trips for those looking for care at discounted rates and in exotic destinations. Not only do they plan everything for you, but often insurance is included to assure that if anything goes wrong, corrective care back home will be covered. Medical tourism sounds to many like the ideal way to blend the business of medical care with the pleasure of travel. Some popular countries for cardiothoracic surgery abroad include Thailand, Singapore, and India.
With savings on angioplasties, one of the more common heart surgeries, of about $25,000 depending on where clients choose to go under the knife, it’s easy to see why for many this is an attractive option. There are a few reasons people might consider traveling for surgery. One factor driving medical tourism is the possibility of a long waitlist at home. Additionally, patients are often seeking procedures not yet available in their home country, for example, some newer chemotherapy drugs or stem cell therapies. For some, the appeal is nothing more than the opportunity to vacation in exotic destinations for less than undergoing surgery at home. Finally, there are those that do not have insurance and cannot afford the cost of the operation in their home country.
For all the financial benefits there are, of course, also risks involved. The first and perhaps most troubling is the increased risk for infection. Sepsis is much more common in surgery centers with inadequate infection control policies in place or discrepant antibiotic prescription. Even in environments with the best standards of care, patients who open their bodies to the microbiome of a new location, to which their immune system is not accustomed, elevates their risk of potentially deadly infection. Additional risk presents in the form of the drugs required before, during and after surgery that may be counterfeit or of otherwise substandard quality. For some, there may also be language barriers that can lead to miscommunications which could be dangerous to a patient's health. It may be an issue with communicating appropriate prescription dosage or with adequately expressing concerning postoperative symptoms, but whatever the case, it could cost you your life. Patients must also consider the increased risk of blood clots due to air travel. Even with all the pros, the cons weed out everyone but the risk takers.
For those concerned about lessening their risk, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has provided some guidance on how to be sure you are receiving quality care. Suggestions include speaking with your doctor at home about staying healthy during travel to your specific destination. Also, travelers should discuss the risks involved in their intended procedure as it applies to their case. Travelers must also be sure to research the facility and the doctor to be certain that they have the necessary credentials, as standards abroad are not the same as in the United States. The CDC also suggests that you take copies of all records related to the condition for which you are receiving care with you to your destination. Be sure to pack lists containing your current medications, their brand and generic names, manufacturer information, and dosages. Also, be sure to take any paperwork you collect at the receiving hospital home with you for review by your home doctor. It is advised that when traveling to a destination where you do not speak the language to have a communication plan in place or better yet, hire a translator. These steps may seem obvious, but the people who neglect to take them are at elevated risk of being another unfortunate statistic.