“Medical tourism,” or traveling to another country for medical care, is a growing trend. Patients Beyond Borders says that between 11 million and 14 million people travel each year for medical care.
According to Patients Beyond Borders, a guide to medical tourism, top destinations include Costa Rica, India, Israel, Malaysia, Mexico, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, and the United States.
Many people are drawn to travel abroad by the potential for cost savings on medical procedures.
The top specialties for medical travelers include cosmetic surgery, dentistry, cardiovascular, reproductive and weight loss.
How big is the market? The Medical Tourism Association, an international trade organization that acts as a liaison between patients and international providers, estimated the industry’s worth at US$100 billion in 2016-17.
And the market is growing as the world population is aging and becoming more affluent at rates that surpass the availability of quality healthcare resources. Patients Beyond Borders says worldwide medical tourism market is growing at a rate of 15-25%, with inbound patient flows highest in Mexico, Southeast, and South Asia.
How much can you save? According to Patients Beyond Borders, using US costs across a variety of specialties and procedures as a benchmark, average range of savings for the most-traveled destinations:
- Brazil: 20-30%
- Costa Rica: 45-65%
- India: 65-90%
- Malaysia: 65-80%
- Mexico: 40-65%
- Singapore: 25-40%
- South Korea: 30-45%
- Taiwan: 40-55%
- Thailand: 50-75%
- Turkey: 50-65%
There are significant risks in traveling abroad for medical treatment, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cautions.
“Antibiotic resistance is a global problem, and resistant bacteria may be more common in other countries than in the United States,” the agency warns.
In addition, the CDC warns of other risks to consider, like Communication may be a challenge, medication may be counterfeit or of poor quality in some countries, and flying after surgery can increase the risk for blood clots.
Thinking about medical tourism?
The CDC has a number of suggestions for anyone thinking about getting medical care in another country:
- Check of the qualifications of the health care provider that includes the surgeon and the clinic or hospital.
- 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.
- 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.
Choose internationally credentialed facilities, and be aware that standards for providers and clinics in other countries may be different than those in the United States.