Hospital San Isidro in Buenos Aires, Argentina
"Medical tourism" is the phrase used to describe when people travel to countries with less expensive health care than their home country. As an American who nearly just got kicked off her health coverage (and would have had to pay a hefty extra bill each month -- Massachusetts healthcare fail), and a UK citizen who has waited weeks for simple appointments (and actually got booted out of a nurse's office once for having more than one ailment to ask her about -- apparently that required a separate appointment), I have to say that I see the appeal.
What's not to love? You get cheaper care, can sometimes then afford to upgrade to well-appointed recovery care, and in the case of cosmetic surgery, can avoid a lot of other people's nosiness about what you're having done.
But me? Well, I hope it never comes to that. Because I am frankly scared sh*tless of what might happen in countries where medical care is so much less expensive. Some of the price differnetial is caused by regular economic factors -- cost of living, cost of education, demand... but sometimes it's caused by less medical regulation. And less regulation can mean less-educated doctors, lower-quality medications and injectables, and unclean spaces. And since medical tourism is usually for procedures that would be prohibitively expensive otherwise, this means patients are often having major surgeries and the like, in a foreign country, far from the comforts (and familiar legal system) of home. Medical tourism carries real risks, particularly in after-care. Safety ain't no joke. If you happen to be what we travel bloggers charmingly call a "digital nomad," international healthcare is often unavoidable.
I don't mean to be a downer, because there are some reputable companies that help arrange quality care in places such as Singapore. In fact, even the notoriously tangled, expensive, and fairly irritating US insurance system is starting to look at offering international procedures, and also how to align the quality of care. But this international interest can cause problems for those already living in the destination countries -- for example, there is more demand for expensive care at private hospitals in Bangkok, so Thais training in medicine have little incentive to go work at the public hospitals.
Here is a radio conversation where people who have engaged in medical tourism talk about their experiences. And another great conversation and transcript.
Have you ever received healthcare abroad? Then I'd love to hear from you -- go on, don't be shy!
(image via, under Creative Commons)