A Look into Medical Tourism

Recently I was scrolling through the AOA Morning Brief email when the headline, “THOUSANDS OF AMERICANS ARE CROSSING THE BORDER INTO MEXICO EVERY YEAR TO GET AFFORDABLE MEDICAL TREATMENT” from Newsweek caught my eye.

I was first introduced to “Medical Tourism” as part of a medical missions trip to the Philippines in 2004. A few of the older adults I was traveling, during one of our days off, went to dentist in Davao City. At the time being a college student, I didn’t understand why they would skip a beach day and wouldn’t just have the work done in the US. But now 15 years later, I now understand the true cost of health.

This article sites statistics that a conservative number would be 800k to 1 million Americans traveled to Mexico yearly for the purpose of medical procedures (dental being most common, followed by cosmetic surgery, orthopedics, bariatrics, optometry, IVF, etc.)

Professionally, my first interaction with medical tourism came in the form of a patient who had bariatric surgery in Mexico. This person was a new patient to me and provided me with the medical records and op note (translated into English). I can’t specifically remember the complications but I know that there were some post op and also then trying to get the patient home. No matter, this person had lived to tell about it and what a tale it was.

The organization in the Newsweek article, Patients Without Borders, terms itself as “The Most Trusted Resource in Medical Travel.” After reviewing their site, I’m just left neutral. I mean, I don’t blame patients looking for a lower cost way to get the help and services they need plus visiting another country. I applaud them for taking the initiative to seek other options. But I’m severely disappointed that our patients, our friends, our family members can’t receive excellent AND reasonable priced healthcare within their own country.

I have no knowledge on quality of care in these places and refuse to pass judgement that these healthcare system don’t deliver an equal level of care as US institutions. I have know many foreign physicians who are more than adequate in their knowledge base and competency.

But I’m just concerned for these people. Patients become even more vulnerable who seek Medical Tourism where there is already uncertainty and vulnerability surrounding medical procedures. Nowhere in this world is there a 100% complication-free facility. However, these patients are going to a place that they don’t speak the primary language or have a full understanding of the culture. They are enduring the stress of international travel and traveling away from their support system at home.

Moral of this story: We have to do better.

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