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What Is Medical Tourism?

Why People Travel Domestically For Medical Care

A jet flying over the Empire State Building in New York City.

Medical tourism is the process of traveling to another state or country to receive medical treatment. With domestic medical tourism, patients travel to another state to undergo medical treatment. While the main purpose of the trip is to receive a specific medical treatment, many travelers take advantage of the opportunity and enjoy it as a vacation. They may plan their trip around sightseeing and some even book luxurious resorts or hotels so they can enjoy their time away from home.

According to a study published in the American Journal of Medicine, “The number of U.S. medical tourists and the number of medical tourists in the world is expected to increase by 25% per year.” The medical tourism industry is growing and continues to be an increasingly popular way to seek affordable and skilled medical treatment.

Why People Participate in Medical Tourism

There are many reasons some patients choose to travel to other regions in the United States or even to foreign countries for medical care. Receiving high-quality treatment is a top priority for those who take their health seriously. If you have a health issue that requires a specialist, it’s not uncommon to research the best specialists in the world to treat your condition.

When you find a specialist you feel comfortable with, a trip to that location can help you feel confident in the treatment you’ll receive. It may also seem more exciting and inviting to recover from a medical procedure in a new location or at a resort. In some cases, insurance or medical providers can offer incentives to medical tourists. These incentives can entice patients to travel to other parts of the world to receive treatment or schedule medical procedures. Medical researchers can also offer incentives to study participants and these research studies may require that participants travel in order to participate.

Medical Tourism Statistics

The medical tourism industry is growing, and there are several different reasons that patients may travel to obtain treatments and procedures. Unless another reference is present, these statistics are all featured in the American Journal of Medicine study referenced above.

  • About 40% of medical tourists travel for treatment because another region offers advanced technology.
  • The U.S. is home to 63 medical tourism companies as of 2008.
  • On an average trip, a medical tourist will spend between $7,475 and $15,833.
  • More than 1.4 million Americans sought medical care in another country in 2017.
  • The three most popular international destinations for U.S. medical tourists were Costa Rica, India, and Malaysia.
  • The most frequent types of conditions medical tourists traveled to these countries to have treated were related to dentistry, cosmetic surgery, and cardiac conditions.
  • The most common cosmetic surgeries sought by medical tourists: Breast augmentation accounts for 15.8%, followed by liposuction at 14%, eyelid surgery at 12.9%, rhinoplasty at 7.6%, and abdominoplasty (also known as a tummy tuck) at 7.4%.

Risks and Benefits of Medical Tourism

While the medical tourism industry seems to only be gaining speed, it’s important to understand that there are both benefits and risks associated with traveling for medical procedures.

Risks

While all medical procedures and treatments carry some risk, medical tourism is associated with additional unique risks, which may include:

  • Not seeing the medical facility beforehand: Not being able to assess the cleanliness or quality of the medical care facility beforehand can be nerve-racking and you may be disappointed when you arrive.
  • Flying home after surgery: If you haven’t fully recovered or still feel weak, traveling home after your procedure can cause complications in your healing process. Flying can increase the risk of infectious diseases and the development of blood clots.
  • Medication quality: Pharmaceutical regulations can vary by country, so you may not be provided with the quality medication you would have received in the U.S. if you travel abroad for treatment.
  • Language barriers: You’ll probably have a lot of questions when receiving medical treatment, so it’s important to be able to communicate with medical professionals. If you don’t speak the same language as your doctor, this communication can feel impossible.

If you’re obtaining treatment abroad, especially cosmetic surgery, it’s important to find a trustworthy and high-quality plastic surgeon with a good reputation. Doing your research on the doctor, facility, and recovery process can help prepare you for the risks associated with medical tourism.

Benefits

The various benefits of medical tourism are what continue to make this industry increasingly popular. Some of the benefits medical tourists can experience include:

  • Seeing a specialist or reputable doctor: Most medical tourists do their research and find the best specialists in the world. A reputable doctor can usually provide the highest quality treatment and care, especially for specialized health issues.
  • Planning an exotic trip: One benefit of medical tourism is that you get to experience a new location in the process. You can explore a new destination and enjoy luxurious accommodations at a hotel or resort during your trip.
  • Savings or incentives: Some medical tourists choose to have their treatments completed in different states because their health insurance companies or healthcare providers offer them savings or other incentives.

The Future of Medical Tourism

It’s impossible to predict how the medical tourism industry will fair in the coming years. However, if it continues to follow the rising trend, more and more medical tourists will continue to travel domestically and abroad for medical treatments and procedures.

While there are legal and logistical issues that are still present in the medical tourism industry, it can give patients access to the reputable specialists they need and affordable procedures they want to have performed. Medical tourism seems to be here to stay and it’ll continue to change the way many U.S. residents receive healthcare, elect for cosmetic surgery, and obtain specialty treatment.

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