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The Risks of Medical Tourism

By on March 29, 2014 in Health Insurance, Insurance

The Risks of Medical TourismMedical tourism is coming up as a rising trend in healthcare. It offers consumers surgery and other medical procedures in developing countries at a fraction of the cost it will be in rich countries. And often procedures are available in Third World countries that are not in wealthier countries. For the person who is looking for a procedure that is not covered by medical insurance, or is listed as experimental by the government, medical tourism provides an option.

But despite the advantages medical tourism offers, it also comes with significant risks. Whatever the reason that you would seek medical treatment in a foreign country, you must consider those risks and determine if it is worth taking a chance.

Some of those risks include the following:

No insurance coverage

Though it may cost only $10,000 to have a surgery done in a Third World country that would cost over $100,000 in the US, you’ll almost certainly not have the benefit of coverage from your health insurance company. Though some US-based health insurance companies are entering medical tourism on a limited basis, most will not pay for overseas medical procedures most of the time.

Financing will probably not be an option either, as US lenders would be highly unlikely to grant you a loan for a medical procedure in another country. And since you’re not a citizen or a resident of the country where you will be having surgery, it is unlikely that you’ll get a loan in that country either.

Any medical procedures that you have in another country almost certainly have to be paid in cash. And that cash will probably need to be paid up front as the likelihood of collection on a debt declines as you pass international borders.

Third world countries generally lack US medical standards

The United States is on the higher end of standards for medical practices and procedures – it might even have the highest. When you go outside the US – especially to poorer countries – standards will be much lower, and possibly even nonexistent.

In order to take advantage of the much lower prices that poor countries have for medical procedures, you will almost certainly be giving up many of the quality standards you have come to expect as a resident of the US.

In the US for example, we’re used to undergoing a certain number of tests prior to a procedure. As a means of holding down the cost, those procedures may not be recommended or even available.

No legal recourse

The US is the most litigious society in the world, and if you’ve lived here all of your life you may be entirely unaware of the fact that this is not a standard the world over. In third world countries especially you may find there is absolutely no legal recourse in the event that either something goes seriously wrong with your surgery, or if it fails to solve your problem.

Since the medical providers are located in another country, they will be beyond the reach of US courts. And since you are not a resident of the country where the procedure took place, you may have no legal standing to bring a suit if were even possible to do so.

Local conditions

As a rule, the lower the standard of living in a country, the more likely it is for infectious diseases to be widespread. Apart from the fact that you will not have built up an immunity to these diseases, not having lived in those countries, you will be more susceptible to contracting them because you will be in a weakened state due to surgery.

You can also find yourself in an area where electricity service is poor, and air-conditioning is close to nonexistent. You may find your recovery to be more than a little uncomfortable.

Complications of travel

If travel is difficult under normal circumstances, it will be even more so if you are traveling in either direction in a weakened state. This will be complicated by distance as well. A trip to India, Thailand, or South Africa will involve a lot of flight time, including layovers and possibly long overland travel.

You will also be living in an area where the climate, the food, and even the quality of the water are very different from what you are used to. And since people typically recover best at home, you’ll have to factor in being in a country that is not only different, but even exotic.

Follow up care at home may be hard to get or uncovered by insurance

Once you return home you’ll need to get follow-up care for your surgery, and that can be a problem since the service will have to be provided by someone other than the doctor and staff who performed the surgery itself. In addition, since the procedure was never sanctioned by your insurance company, they may refuse to pay for follow-up visits and any subsequent procedures that may be required.

Not all surgeries end happily and you won’t be near your support base

Finally, we get to a topic many of us don’t like to discuss or consider when it comes to surgery. There is at least a small chance that your surgery will not be successful – either it will fail to remedy the problem you came for, or it will lead to an increase in other problems. There is even a chance that you will not survive the procedure.

All of these risks exist even if you have a surgery at home, but if there are complications you’ll at least have your support base available in your own territory. But if complications develop when you’re 10,000 miles from home, there will be an entirely new set of issues that you’ll need to deal with, only you will be doing so without help from your family and friends.

None of these risks are meant to completely discourage you from taking advantage of medical tourism. But before you do you should be fully prepared to deal with the risks that are unique to obtaining of medical care in another country.

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