Medical tourism is a form of traveling abroad for medical care. Many Americans prefer to visit another country for medical care (or vice versa), then return home once their care is complete. Though it’s not often discussed, medical tourism is a common practice. According to the CDC, “Each year, millions of U.S. residents participate in medical tourism.”
However, COVID-19 has thrown a wrench into medical tourism plans. Traveling for medical purposes already poses a slew of health risks. Now, patients need to consider the possible health ramifications of traveling during the pandemic as well.
If you are thinking of traveling abroad for medical attention in the near future, here are some things to know.
Why do people engage in medical tourism?
With so many doctors, hospitals, and urgent care clinics available in the US, why would U.S. residents engage in medical tourism? There can be a myriad of personal reasons, but they typically fall into one of three overarching categories.
- It’s sometimes cheaper to have the procedure done in another country, especially if the patience does not have adequate insurance.
- They would rather go to their home country to have the procedure done.
- The procedure that they want to get isn’t allowed in the United States.
No matter your reason for traveling for medical care, think through all of the risks beforehand and make a plan for safety.
What risks should you consider before traveling abroad for medical care?
Before confirming a medical procedure in another country, do your homework. Research the doctor and the facility that you are considering for this procedure. Whether at home or abroad, only get medical attention from qualified professionals with reputable medical practices.
If you know that you will be traveling for medical purposes, discuss it with your primary care physician. They should be able to give you advice about traveling with your medical conditions. They could also prescribe medication that you might need before traveling to that specific country. For example, if you will be traveling to a country with a high rate of malaria, your doctor can prescribe an anti-malarial medication.
Safe countries for your procedure
Only receive medical treatment in countries with safe medical practices. In countries that don’t have high standards of care, you could expose yourself to a variety of health risks.
Some common risks associated with medical tourism are:
- Infection. If the medical tools aren’t sterile, you run a much higher risk of developing an infection after your procedure. Likewise, if any incisions are not cleaned and closed correctly, you can develop an infection even after you travel back home.
- Disease transmission. When medical procedures are not performed correctly, you run the risk of disease transmission. This can come from unclean medical equipment, blood or body tissue from infected donors, or unsanitary conditions.
- Miscommunication. If you don’t fluently speak the same language as your doctors, you could have some miscommunication issues. When it comes to medical procedures, miscommunications can be extremely dangerous.
In the COVID-19 era, there is an added risk of developing complications due to COVID-19. Following a medical procedure, you may have a higher risk of developing severe symptoms if you contract COVID-19. Before traveling, research the infection rates for the countries that you will be travel to and the countries that you will be traveling through. While traveling, follow all CDC guidelines to reduce the likelihood of transmission.
Returning home from a medical tourism trip
Before scheduling your medical tourism trip, ensure that you can actually get follow-up care back home. It’s important for you to stay in communication with your primary doctor so that your procedure can go as smoothly as possible. If possible, go ahead and schedule your follow-up visits before you even leave town.
After you return home, attend the follow-up visits with your doctor. Even if you are feeling well and you are confident that everything has gone as planned, still attend those visits. Your doctor can make sure that the procedure is healing appropriately and look for any signs of complications. If complications do arise, it is much better to handle them quickly than to wait.