The Dark Underbelly of Medical Tourism

In 2013, doctors in Maryland sent disturbing news to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Two patients had come down with raging infections from bacteria that didn’t respond to normal treatment.

When the CDC investigated, they found a total of 21 victims. And they were spread across six states. The common thread? They had all been to the Dominican Republic for elective surgery.

They were medical tourists. And they’d picked up a bug ordinary antibiotics didn’t touch.

Nine of the 21 had cosmetic surgery performed at the same Dominican clinic. All nine required surgery to root out the infection. Even after surgery, seven needed massive antibiotic treatments for three months or more.

The low healthcare prices in other countries make medical travel tempting. And it’s booming. But before you travel overseas, you need to understand the dark underbelly of this multi-billion dollar business.

Those Big Savings Can Come With Big Risks

Here at Discovery Health Publishing, I think we get more questions on medical tourism than any other topic. The industry has exploded in the last decade or so. And no wonder. You can easily save tens of thousands of dollars on medical care overseas.

The industry makes it almost sound like a lark. You get quality healthcare… plus a luxurious “vacation.” When you get home, you’re relaxed, renewed, and have thousands extra in your pocket.

But, as the folks in the report above discovered, you may bring something extra home, too.

In most cases, you can’t just go back overseas for treatment. You’ll have to stay – and pay – here. So your savings may evaporate anyway. And your legal options are very limited with overseas healthcare providers.

Failures and other complications can lead to huge medical bills. Along with months – or even years – of suffering.

So how do you decide if medical travel is right for you? And how do you find out where to get medical care overseas?

Navigating the Medical Tourism Swamp

The International Board of Medicine and Surgery reports the five most common reasons for medical travel are…

  • Knee and hip replacements
  • Fertility treatments
  • Heart/circulation concerns
  • Cosmetic dentistry
  • Gastric bypass surgery

In many cases, you can save over half the cost of the same procedures in the U.S. And when you’re spending $20,000… $50,000… or even more, that’s no small savings.

Medical tourism is big business almost everywhere medical costs are lower than in the developed West.

Poland and Hungary have boards promoting medical tourism. So do India, Thailand, South Korea, and Singapore. Central America and the Caribbean are popular destinations, because they’re especially easy to reach from the U.S.

Of course, all these boards focus on the pluses of their own services… such as English-speaking staff, arrangements for travel companions, and various levels of affordability.

Medical travel companies and associations have sprung up like weeds. Many have deals with specific clinics in specific countries… and will steer you to their affiliates.

Reuter’s news service reports some of these groups may not be entirely above board. So look into any association or agency before you turn to them for help.

Here are three other ways to protect yourself – both physically and financially…

  • Talk to your doctor. What are the risks of travel before and after your procedure? What if you experience complications… and which are the most likely to occur?
  • Talk to your insurance company. Some now help people find less expensive – but fully qualified – U.S. hospitals and clinics. You may not have to travel so far to save thousands.
  • If you plan to travel overseas, be sure the hospital/clinic you plan to visit is accredited by the Joint Commission International. This is an offshoot of the top accrediting body for U.S. hospitals.

Healthcare costs in the U.S. are out of sight. But price shouldn’t be the primary driver where your health is concerned. As the patients in our opening story learned the hard way.

Medical travel is a huge – and often confusing – topic. In the coming weeks and months, we’ll delve further into the costs, advantages, and potential pitfalls. Stay tuned.

About the Author: Jason Kennedy is a celebrated investigative health writer and the author of The X-Factor Revolution and Beyond the Blue Zone. With over 10 years of experience working with today’s leading alternative and anti-aging doctors, Jason shares his insider status and access to the latest breakthroughs with thousands of readers from around world.

Schnabel, D., et al, “Multistate US Outbreak of Rapidly Growing Mycobacterial Infections Associated with Medical Tourism to the Dominican Republic, 2013–2014,” Emerging Infectious Diseases. Aug 2016; 22(8).

“Most popular medical tourism treatments,” IBMS. Feb 8, 2016.

Borrell, B., “Controversial couple dominates U.S. medical tourism,” Reuters Health. Oct 28, 2009.

© Copyright 2017 Discovery Health Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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