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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Errin Weisman DO

Errin Weisman, DO is a life coach, podcaster and fierce advocate for wellness in medicine. She faced professional burnout early in her career and speaks openly about about her story in order to help others, particularly female physicians and working moms, know they are not alone. Dr. Weisman wholeheartedly believes to be a healer, you must first fill your own cup. She lives and practices life coaching and medicine in rural Southwestern Indiana, loves her roles as farmer’s wife, athlete and mother of three.You can find out more about Dr. Weisman on her podcast Doctor Me First, her website truthrxs.com or hang out with her on social media @truthrxs. Her podcast is “Doctor Me First”. 

  2 comments for “A Look into Medical Tourism

  1. Dick Carlson
    May 24, 2019 at 1:24 pm

    My parents were snow-birds in AZ for many years, and they (and their friends) found much better prices just across the border. Yes, they would need to do due diligence on the quality of care — but on the whole people were quite happy and prices of 1/10th the US cost were common.

    Now, as a full-time RV-er, I meet many, many people who do the same, with good results. People with horror stories seem to be the ones who pick the nicest web site or the absolute cheapest price.

  2. Maddie
    May 24, 2019 at 12:41 pm

    In the past insurance companies were encouraging patients to have joint replacement surgery in “cheaper” hospitals abroad. They would pay for the travel and hotels. I don’t remember when this was, probably after 2005.

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