Going Abroad for Medical Care?
“Medical tourism” refers to traveling to another country for medical care. It’s estimated that up to 750,000 US residents travel abroad for care each year. Many people who travel for care do so because treatment is much cheaper in another country.
In addition, a large number of medical tourists are immigrants returning to their home country for care. This has become quite prevalent in Ireland where we have many former eastern European citizens returning to their home country for medical care.
This can be motivated by ease of communication, familiarity with the health service cost and the availability of family support during recuperation. The most common procedures that people undergo on medical tourism trips include cosmetic surgery, dentistry, and heart surgery.
In recent years travelling for dental services abroad from Ireland has become popular.
Risks of Medical Tourism
The specific risks of medical tourism depend on the area being visited and the procedures performed, but some general issues have been identified:
- Communication may be a problem. Receiving care at a facility where you do not speak the language fluently increases the chance that misunderstandings will arise about the care.
- Medication may be counterfeit or of poor quality in some countries.
- Antibiotic resistance is a global problem, and resistant bacteria may be more common in other countries.
- The blood supply in some countries comes primarily from paid donors and may not be screened, which puts patients at risk of HIV and other infections spread through blood.
- Flying after surgery increases the risk for blood clots.
What You Can Do
- If you are planning to travel to another country for medical care, see a travel medicine practitioner at least 4–6 weeks before the trip to discuss general information for healthy travel and specific risks related to the procedure and travel before and after the procedure.
- Check for the qualifications of the health care providers who will be doing the procedure and the credentials of the facility where the procedure will be done.
- Make sure that you have a written agreement with the health care facility or the group arranging the trip, defining what treatments, supplies, and care are covered by the costs of the trip.
- Determine what legal actions you can take if anything goes wrong with the procedure. In particular establish the jurisdiction or country under whose legal system any dispute will become heard. This can an important consideration in the event of something going wrong and the remedies open to you.
- If you go to a country where you do not speak the language, determine ahead of time how you will communicate with your doctor and other people who are caring for you.
- Obtain copies of your medical records, which should describe any allergies you may have.
- Prepare copies of all your prescriptions and a list of all the medicines you take, including their brand names, their generic names, manufacturers, and dosages.
- Arrange for follow-up care with your local health care provider before you leave.
- Before planning “vacation” activities, such as sunbathing, drinking alcohol, swimming, or taking long tours, find out if those activities are permitted after surgery.
- Get copies of all your medical records before you return home.