Medical tourism can be best described as the combination of travel to a foreign country to receive affordable medical care while, if time permits, taking advantage of local tourism opportunities. Medical tourists utilize the services of top surgeons in the world at high-end medical facilities, all-the-while enjoying exotic locales and 4 or 5 star accommodations. Patients can put the money they are saving on the procedure into turning their journey into a magnificent, world-class retreat.
How Common is Medical Tourism?
In 2007, an estimated 750,000 Americans traveled abroad for medical care. The projected increase in the number of American medical tourists is from 750,000 in 2007 to 15.75 million in 2017. Worldwide, medical travel is growing rapidly and has become one of the major world centers attracting people from all corners of the world to its top-quality surgical and medical facilities.
Why Travel Abroad for Healthcare?
Cost is the big reason. Today, forty-seven million Americans are uninsured. The cost of treatment for medical or surgical procedures in the U.S. is often prohibitive and far beyond the average person’s ability to pay for it. Many people who need help put off seeking it because they simply cannot afford it. Many surgical procedures (i.e. heart bypass, joint replacement, spinal disc repair, Lasik eye surgery, Lapband weight reduction surgery) cost 50% to 90% less abroad. Those huge savings can make the cost of even major medical care affordable for anyone forced to pay out of pocket for treatment. That includes:
- Americans without health insurance;
- Someone whose insurance has such large deductible and co-pay amounts that out-of-pocket expenses for domestic surgery would exceed the entire cost (medical plus travel) of treatment abroad. The cost differences are so tremendous, that this is often the case;
- People seeking care (i.e. costly dental work or cosmetic surgery) not covered by insurance;
- Citizens of countries with national healthcare systems requiring a six- to 12-month wait for non-emergency surgery. That’s a long time to wait for someone with a painful condition like a herniated back disc, making the low cost of immediate surgery abroad a compelling option.
Is Medical Tourism and International Health Care Travel Really Affordable?
Even when a medical tourist factors in the cost of airfare for his/herself and his/her companion (accommodations, meals, other travel-related expenses, and the cost of the procedure itself), the cost savings are striking. In most cases, even when patients fly halfway around the world and stay at top hotels, they are still saving huge sums of money as compared to having received care in North America.
For more information on Medical Tourism, see:
WSOC-TV July 2009, 9 Investigates: Patients Going Outside U.S. for Cheaper Medical Treatments