Medical Tourism and Emergency Overseas Healthcare Payments

. 3 min read

Many travellers journey to foreign countries around the globe to seek out alternatives to the healthcare services in their home country. In some cases, they travel because there aren’t specialists in their country of origin with the skills and experience necessary to diagnose or treat their disease or injury. Medical tourism is a $45 billion industry, and it is growing rapidly.  

Others travel abroad because there is a waiting list for certain treatments or surgeries, or there is a renowned surgeon who has performed a certain procedure successfully multiple times. A recent Economist article shows how healthcare systems of some G-20 countries charge less than others for common surgical procedures.

Take a Trip, Save on Surgery

Heart-valve replacements are €30,000 in Germany, but only half as many euros in neighbouring Austria, at the same standard of care. If you are a Brit in need of a new hip, you’ll have to ante up €12,000 (or the equivalent in pounds) though you can travel and have the procedure in Turkey for €10,000 or get a great deal in Poland for only €4,725.

Many expats return to their home country to be treated by someone with whom they have a relationship. Still others travel for elective cosmetic surgeries in a country like Brazil or South Korea. Maybe they want to combine recovery and relaxation in an idyllic vacation setting.

Finally, there are the travellers who venture overseas for business or pleasure, and have a medical emergency take place when they are overseas.

Regional Hotspots for Specialized Procedures

Other countries are renowned for specific surgery categories, such as:

  • Costa Rica, Hungary and Mexico – Dentistry
  • India – Cardiology
  • Poland – Orthopaedic surgery
  • Australia, Barbados – Invitro Fertilization

Healthcare-for-profit in many of these countries is big business. In some cases, certain medications and anaesthesia are less expensive than others. Gender reassignment surgery is more popular in Thailand because it is more socially acceptable there, like how cosmetic surgery carries less stigma in places like Brazil or South Africa.

Exercise Caution and Be Prepared

Just as with any major life decision, it’s vital you do your due diligence before contracting surgery overseas.

Medical Tourism Magazine suggests these precautions before undergoing any surgery, or signing any contracts committing yourself to do so:

1.       Consult with a Travel Health Consultant – Consult with a travel health expert at least a month before your scheduling your surgery, to get expert advice on the region of your surgery, the provider you are considering, and to understand the risks involved. Get a full contracted breakdown of the surgeries which you plan to undergo.

Make sure you understand the requirements for payment, be it partially in advance, if your health insurance provider will cover the procedure, or if a lump sum payment needs to be made following the procedure.

2.       Prepare for Recovery – As stated above, there are resorts and hotels which partner with healthcare providers. They often have continuity of care packages to safeguard against infection or complications during recovery.

3.       Travel with a Companion and Stay Connected to Home – For the reasons outlined in the point above, a companion can help protect the traveling patient. Some countries have lower standards for medical practice than we are used to in our homeland. Should a problem arise, such as an allergic reaction to medicine, having someone with you, or an emergency contact at home can be critical to your well-being. A companion that can speak the local language is the best person to take.

4.       Ensure you can provide the provider with your health records – Ensure you inform the doctor of any medicines you are taking; pre-existing conditions and you are in peak health before undergoing any procedure.

Medical tourism can be an affordable, timely way to have elective surgery completed and provide a comfortable place to relax during the recovery process. For life-saving or improving surgeries involving vital organs, or to increase the odds of conception, it can literally mean the difference between life or death when waiting lists are long and time is fleeting. Whatever your reason for becoming a medical tourist, be prepared and be cautious.

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