The term ‘medical tourism’ refers to travellers who have chosen to have medical/surgical/dental treatment abroad. Cosmetic surgery, dental procedures and cardiac surgery are the most common procedures that medical tourists undertake.
The standard of medical facilities and available treatments vary widely around the world. As such, travellers considering undertaking medical treatment abroad should carry out their own research; it is unwise to rely upon private companies that have a financial interest in arranging medical treatments abroad.
The risk associated with medical tourism varies depending on the area visited and the procedure performed. Travellers should consider the following factors:
- Communication – receiving treatment in a facility where you do not speak the language fluently may increase the risk of misunderstandings about your care.
- Hygiene standards vary; diseases such as hepatitis B and HIV can be transmitted though unsterilised medical equipment.
- Medication may be of poor quality or even counterfeit in some countries.
- Antibiotic resistance is a global problem, and resistant bacteria may be more common in some countries than others.
- Blood products may not be screened for blood-borne infections.
- Flying after surgery may increase the risk of deep vein thrombosis.
All surgical procedures carry a certain amount of risk. Medical tourists are advised of the following risk management strategies:
- Check the qualifications of the healthcare professionals who will be providing your care and the credentials of the healthcare facility where your procedure will be carried out. How will you verify qualifications / credentials?
- Seek a consultation at least 4–6 weeks before the trip to discuss general information for healthy travel, specific risks related to the procedure and travel plans before and after procedure.
- Involve your own doctor or dentist for advice beforehand.
- You will need specialist insurance; normal travel insurance will not suffice.
- Obtain a written agreement with the healthcare provider and/or group arranging the trip. It should detail treatment, supplies and care covered by the fees.
- Find out what legal actions may be taken in the event that something goes wrong.
- If you do not speak the language, find out how you will communicate with the healthcare providers before travelling.
- Take copies of pertinent medical records including pre-existing medical conditions, known allergies and any medications (including generic name, manufacturers name and dose).
- Ensure you obtain copies of your medical records before you return home.
- If the main reason for having tratment overseas is to save money ensure you carry out careful calculations of all costs including contingency plans.
- If you cannot obtain the treatment in question in the UK why might this be the case?
- Companies that offer the 'hard sell' or sell packages that include a holiday as well as treatment.
- Being pressured into making a quick decision.
- Not being able to speak directly with the healthcare provider and / or having a consultation before treatment.
Further advice and information on medical tourism, including a treatment abroad checklist, can be found via following link:
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) provides details of the nearest British Embassy or Consulate that may be able to help locate health care facilities at the destination. Neither the FCO or Embassy will pay for medical care even in an emergency.