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Medical tourism is a term used to define people travelling abroad for medical treatment. Currently, medical tourism is highly advertised and is attracting those seeking medical treatment at lower prices. Dental tourism has particularly surged in popularity recently, but other invasive surgical procedures are also offered. Price of treatment is certainly an important factor that patients consider when choosing but other factors also play a role, such as long waiting times for procedures and potential inaccessibility of medical help in their home country. Whilst patients may see the reduced price and a possible holiday in the sun as an alluring option, medical tourism comes with a host of potential risks that may otherwise be avoidable.
Quality of care – Finding themselves in an unfamiliar country, patients may be forced to contend with a different level of care depending on the national standards. A factor of care to consider is also the documentation of the surgery as it may lack the details of the problems and complications leading to problems if correction is required. A particularly important factor in surgical treatment is the quality and availability of medical documentation in case of complications following returning home.
Continuity of care – Upon returning home, patients may experience a lack of easy access to follow up care. Patients may encounter a high level of difficulty in finding a doctor who would be willing to treat a patient whose complications stem from a surgery performed abroad. It seems that the main reason for doctors not to willingly get involved in treatment of complications is the fact that they do not know what was done and what else can potentially go wrong. Such corrective procedures may also become a great unforeseen financial burden.
Travel – Travel plans are already a large hassle to most people and especially if they have just undergone a major operation. Travelling also brings along other problems such as the decreased mobility when travelling by plane as well the potential complications which could arise such as deep vein thrombosis or a pulmonary embolism. Travel plans can also easily be disrupted by a delay such as needing to stay longer than planned, this could represent a costly addition to what should have been a cheaper option.
Communication – Agreeing and consenting for a procedure in an unfamiliar language is a daunting idea. Whilst the documents would most likely be in English, the local language might represent a barrier to patients expressing concerns or problems. Communicating complaints may also pose an issue as well as the possibility that the health facility lacks an adequate complaints policy. In some countries it is not a requirement to explain the risks before an invasive procedure. Without knowing the risks, it is not possible to make an informed decision or consent.
Legal issues – A patient may be willing to accept the above risks but what happens if something goes wrong, and legal action is required? A lack of legal recourse may impede the patient from receiving the appropriate financial reimbursement. In the case of medical malpractice, a patient may not be covered by adequate personal insurance or be unable to seek compensation through a malpractice lawsuit. Furthermore, the hospital or doctor may be unable to pay the damages, even if awarded by a court, due to having inappropriate insurance cover and/or medical indemnity leaving the patient without any help, support or finances to recover from the complications or without help to adjust their life to the new conditions as a result of medical malpractice/complications.
Whilst medical tourism and its growing popularity continues to have negative stigma attached, insurance companies are now offering specific plans to offer protection if anything goes wrong. However, the potential painful and costly complications should still force patients to strongly consider whether the benefits outweigh the negatives.