Medical Tourism Is On The Rise Due To Soaring US Healthcare Costs, But There Are Serious Dangers

Medical Tourism is on the rise for people in the US seeking more affordable healthcare, but dangers include becoming a victim of crime, and receiving improper or lower-quality care due to language barriers and differing healthcare regulations.

By Wendy Hernandez | Published

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Are you considering traveling to Mexico for medical tourism? Think twice. While it may seem like a cost-effective option, recent events have highlighted the dangers that come with seeking medical treatment in a foreign country. Just last week, four Americans were shot and abducted while on a medical tourism trip to Mexico, outraging people across the nation. 

According to Jacob Pope, Chief Operating Officer of Medical Departures, medical tourism accounts for around 15 percent of overall US outbound business and transports 100,000 or more Americans to Mexico alone each year. He believes that approximately 780,000 Americans traveled abroad for treatment during the epidemic year of 2019. 

With those numbers, it is apparent that worldwide medical tourism is a booming business. Indeed, it was valued at $58.6 billion in 2019, according to Patients Without Borders, and it is expected to expand to $180 billion by 2026. This rise is partly due to the rising cost of healthcare in the United States, which has prompted many Americans to seek alternate solutions.

Through medical tourism, people can get care in other countries for a fraction of the cost of care in the United States. This is especially true for things like cosmetic surgery that people choose to do themselves and that insurance often doesn’t pay for. A facelift in the United States, for example, might cost anywhere from $6,000 to $15,000, but the identical surgery in Mexico costs around $3,000.

 While it is tempting to save money on costly procedures by traveling to a country where your costs may be significantly reduced, medical tourism does come with risks. According to NPR, “an element of risk is inherent in many procedures no matter where they’re performed, [but] medical tourism can heighten complications.” 

One important concern in some countries is a lack of regulation and quality control. Medical facilities and practitioners may not be held to the same standards as those in the patient’s native country, and determining the qualifications and credentials of doctors and nurses can be difficult.

Language barriers and communication problems can also be major difficulties for medical tourists. Because the patient may be unable to effectively convey their medical history, symptoms, or concerns, a misdiagnosis or inappropriate therapy may occur.

Language barriers aside, depending on which country you decide to seek medical treatment in, you should be cognizant of that country’s crime rate. It goes without saying that some countries are safer than others. If you do decide to embark on a medical journey to Mexico, it is prudent to take into account the dangerous cartels and proceed with caution.

Another potential risk is travel-related issues or medical emergencies. If a patient’s treatment or recovery is complicated, they may not receive the same degree of care as they would at home. Furthermore, travel-related dangers such as infection, blood clots, or other issues can occur, putting the patient’s health at risk.

Additionally, in the case of negligence or poor outcomes, medical tourists may have limited legal recourse. Legal systems and laws vary a lot from country to country, making it hard for patients to get compensation or hold doctors accountable for being careless.

Ultimately, medical tourism can be a dangerous business. Before making any selections, patients should properly study the institutions and doctors they intend to visit and carefully assess the potential hazards.