What is medical tourism?

If you have never heard of medical tourism, you are not alone. Technically, the term means traveling across any international border for a medical procedure. This could mean a doctor’s check-up and prescription re-fill in Mexico, a special fertility procedure for a hopeful couple in Singapore, a heart bypass in India, or a total make-over in Thailand. Procedures, which used to be done at home, are now being performed by medical professionals in foreign countries, often third world countries, for a greatly reduced price.

History of Medial Tourism

People have been traveling abroad for centuries: from pilgrimages to shrines or other holy places in hopes of miraculous healing to traveling to spas or sanitariums in order to bathe in the healing waters. In fact, at the turn of the century, it was the standard treatment in the US for tuberculosis patients to travel to Arizona in hopes that the dry heat would heal them. Modern medical tourism saw an upswing in the 1980’s and 1990’s when health care costs started to spiral out of control. At that time, it was often called “tooth tourism” because many travelers went in search of discount dental procedures.  The concept has spread to virtually every area of medicine.

Globalization of healthcare

healthcare_globalization_introAccording to World Health Organization ranking for 2012, the number one country in the world for healthcare is France, while Singapore takes the top spot in Asia and number 6 globally. UK is number 18. While the US spends more money than anyone else, it is number 37 (with Cuba as number 39). Many Americans are working under the assumption that the United States offers the best health care. Unfortunately, that is just no longer a true statement. It really is a global economy. Many countries that rank low globally specifically go after that niche tourist dollar for their economy and openly market their country’s services. These countries offer English speaking doctors, trained in the United States (or Europe) and working at hospitals accredited by U.S. accrediting agencies. All of this is done to appeal to foreign patients and gain their business.

How does it work?

Most people either do their own research or contact a company that specializes in medical tourism. Generally, they plan a vacation in the country of their choice with a friend or relative and then have the surgery. They could also enjoy a luxurious post-operative recovery, often in a resort type of setting. The entire vacation combined with the surgery and the post-operative care could be purchased for a fraction of the cost applicable in the US and private care in the UK and Western Europe.

Medical tourism can save a patient literally tens of thousands of dollars without skimping on the quality of care, as long as you are smart about where you choose to go. With that kind of savings and service it is no wonder that over 500,000 Americans are going under the knife overseas every year.  Remember to do a careful research and check with your professional medical advisors before undertaking surgeries in a foreign country.

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