5 ways medical tourism can go wrong

Medical tourism is increasingly popular among patients and health insurers, but research indicates that many patients may return from abroad with costly infections or complications.

For example, botched cosmetic procedures cost the United Kingdom's National Health Services 8 million pounds annually, according to the University of York, which has published a handbook on the implications of medical tourism on world health.

"People are travelling abroad without necessarily understanding that if goes wrong they are not covered in the same way in terms of redress if they were treated by the NHS or treated privately..." said handbook co-author Neil Lunt.  People are so used to just jumping on planes."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) earlier this year issued a fact sheet of potential hazards associated with medical tourism. These include:

  • Language barriers and problems communicating with caregivers
  • Unsafe injection practices that can increase the risk of HIV transmission, such as needle reuse
  • Antibiotic resistance, an increasingly global problem
  • Less stringent blood donation regulations in other countries, such as lack of screening or relying primarily on paid donors
  • Increased risk of blood clots for patients who fly after surgery

To safeguard against such risks, the CDC encourages medical tourists to take precautions, including checking the qualifications of any providers they visit; obtaining written agreements establishing which supplies treatments and care are covered; determining legal options in case of complications; and arranging follow-up care with local providers before leaving.

Meanwhile, for medical tourists from outside the United States, price comparison sites may be a useful tool for determining treatment costs, according to the International Medical Travel Journal. For example, St. George Surgical Center in Utah, which is listed on the new site, gets business both from across the country and from Canada, according to the article. 

To learn more:
- read the University of York announcement
- here's the CDC fact sheet
- check out the International Medical Travel Journal article