International patients may not be able to make informed care decisions

International patients may not receive the necessary information they need to make care decisions, according to an article published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

Medical tourists traditionally leave high-income countries to seek cheaper healthcare in middle and low-income nations, but now--thanks to increasing internet access--more citizens from other countries are traveling to the U.S. for medical care. Yan Alicia Hong, Ph.D., associate professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health, said that the opening of a Chinese American Physicians E-hospital in Texas inspired her to examine the situation. All physicians affiliated with the hospital are bilingual Chinese American doctors, who provide initial teleconsulting services, international transfer and treatment in the U.S. 

"I realized that the flourishing telemedicine and medical tourism communities have been understudied and need more attention," Hong said in the study announcement. She writes in the article that there are four areas that need immediate attention to improve care for these patients:

  • There is a lack of reliable assessment for the quality of healthcare across borders, including information comparing price to outcome.
  • There is not enough communication with patients about the potential risks of medical tourism.
  • Policies about ethical concerns related to clinical trials are not adequate.
  • Legal concerns related to medical tourists have not yet been addressed.

Hong found that number of Chinese patients seeking healthcare in the U.S. has gone up by 400 percent in the decade between 2004 and 2014, and more than 70 percent of these patients seek oncology care. Costs associated with these trips can typically range between $100,000 and $150,000 and patients often pay in cash, Hong found.

In response, some hospitals make services more visible to international patients and an increasing number create departments specifically to treat medical tourists. "Such development has enabled patients around the world to seek the best care available and facilitates efficient communication of medicine globally.," Hong said in the announcement. "However, it's imperative that more research and dialogue be conducted on the issues and impact associated with the evolving models of medical consumerism."

To learn more:
- here's the article
- read the announcement