Helping Solve the Medical Tourism Question

Medical Tourism is on the rise!

Medical Tourism: Here Is a Good Place to Start Your Research

By J. David Drane

Medical Tourism is on the rise!

If you had told me last year that you were going to Thailand to have dental work done, I would have suggested you get your head checked while you were at it. I would have told you to stay away from doctors in Bangkok because there is just no possible way a doctor in Thailand could be as good as a doctor at home, and I would have given you some pretty terrible advice. Instead, I should have just told you to do your research.

Over 11 million people left home on a medical tourism trip last year. More and more people are taking to the Internet to find out that medical care they need is cheaper overseas and doctors are just as good or better. They are finding out that maybe they don't have as much to fear about hospitals in other countries as they thought. The New York Times has been reporting on this phenomenon for over a year now.

And the industry is growing. As the world's population gets older and lives longer, their health care dollars start to stretch. With the power of the Internet at their fingertips and armed with passports, more and more patients are growing tired of opaque hospital bills and frustrating standards of care and taking their out-of-pocket expenses elsewhere.

Travel Services for Medical Travel

I remember my first time traveling in Europe I struggled to order a coffee in Berlin, so I can't imagine trying to book surgery in another country. Luckily, a few travel services have stepped up to simplify booking trips by acting as the middle-man between the patient and the clinic. has a network of more than 300 clinics world-wide and has heard from patients all over the world. Founder Pawel Cebula said that patients "Take control over their health care back by informing themselves about their options and taking advantage of better deals overseas."

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A heart clinic in a Polish hospital.

People traveling for medical care is nothing new. It's not unheard of in the U.S. to hear about someone with a rare illness traveling to another state for treatment. What makes medical tourism different is that most patients are not forced to travel because they can't find a doctor at home, but they are choosing to travel to for other reasons.

Although traveling to get your teeth cleaned in Costa Rica sounds luxurious, and it is, not all trips are much of a vacation. While you might be recovering in 5 star accommodations in an island paradise, some patients are traveling for major surgeries and are not going to be sipping cocktails out of coconuts. Just like getting surgery at home, patients need rest and after-care when recovering from most procedures.

Thinking about all of the chaos of traveling and how uncomfortable flying is already, it isn't the idea of going to a doctor overseas that makes me wonder what would make someone go to another country for surgery; it's coming home afterward. Flying while recovering from any kind of surgery can't be comfortable or easy. If it's bad enough that you need surgery, why would you make it any more painful?

Why they do it largely depends on the patient you ask. The health care industry is as varied across the world as the patients it treats. The reasons that drive patients to seek medical care across the world depend heavily on where they come from and where they go.

Circumvention Tourism

Sometimes, patients don't have any choice but to leave home for medical treatment because the treatment they want is illegal where they live. Patients might also be avoiding social stigmas surrounding the procedure they're having done. Some procedures, like High-Intensity Focused Ultrasound, just haven't been approved by the FDA, while others like In Vitro Fertilization, are banned in some places.

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World-Class Care

Some patients are looking for high-quality specialist care. Affluent patients in developing countries might travel to find a better medical facility than they have at home, or a specialist that isn't available. Many affluent Africans will travel to Asian countries for medical care for a better quality clinic and lower costs than Western clinics.

Liposuction In Luxury

Money is no object to other patients. Some travel seeking the best and most advanced clinics in the world and to relax in 5 star resorts. These patients are most-often traveling for cosmetic procedures or plastic surgery and also value the privacy of recovering away from prying eyes.

Passport Or Pocketbook

Nirunda hospital in Bangkok, Thailand.

The majority of patients travel to save money. Most patients find that even with the costs of travel and accommodations, they still spend less having medical procedures done abroad than they do in their home countries. For the uninsured or under-insured in the U.S., medical tourism might be the difference between being able to afford the procedure and going on without it.

Whatever their reason for it, most people who try medical tourism seem pretty happy with the results. "You could have eaten off the floor it was that clean," said Tracy. She flew from Houston, TX in the U.S. to Thailand for cosmetic surgery and posted about her experience on,"It was better than any other hospital I have seen back home. All equipment looked the same, just in better condition and newer."

People are flocking to countries like Thailand, Malaysia, and Costa Rica for medical treatment. So much so, that governments are investing in infrastructure to bring more medical tourists in. Some doctors have even moved to countries like the United Arab Emirates to take advantage of laws making it easier to bring in patients from overseas.

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The infrastructure and resources in some places can't keep up with the demand from both local residents and patients from abroad, forcing some provinces in Canada to pass regulations making it harder for hospitals to accept medical tourists.

For patients concerned with safety, many of the clinics catering to international patients have earned international accreditations or board certifications in the U.S. in order to prove their credentials. They also offer extra services for international patients like a car service to and from the airport or hotel and on-line doctor consultations.

The logistics of traveling for medical care usually means that most of the trip will be spent at the clinic or resting, so it might not seem like much of a vacation. But for some patients who are getting life-changing operations when they couldn't afford it at home, the trip is just as transforming as any amazing sight or experience. Get a free quote on overseas medical car by calling Medigo at 312 488-1884.

J. David DraneJ. David Drane is a retired professor who lives in Nashville TN.

Read a feature story about Dental tourism in Mexico


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