What is medical tourism?

Medical tourism is the act of traveling to other countries to obtain medical, dental, and surgical care.

Why is growing in popularity? A combination of many factors has led to the recent increase in popularity of medical tourism: the high cost of healthcare in industrialized nations, the ease and affordability of international travel, and the improvement of technology and standards of care in many countries of the world. More than 45 million Americans lack health insurance and 120 million lack dental insurance, and that number continues to grow. Frustrated with the high cost of medical care in this country and by insurance companies that don’t cover elective procedures and in countries like Canada and England where they have socialized medicine—sometimes there are often delays for certain procedures so instead of wait, patients travel abroad for their care. Companies send workers abroad

Where are some of most popular places people are going for medical and dental care? Some to the most popular destinations are: Bolivia, Brazil, Cuba, Costa Rica, Hungary, India, Dubai, Lithuania, Malaysia, Thailand, Belgium, Canada, Poland and Singapore. South Africa is taking the term “medical tourism” very literally by promoting their “medical safarisî. You can tell your friends and family that you are going on safari and in actuality you are primarily going for a faceliftÖor saying you are going skiing at Whistler resort in British Columbia but you stop by Whistler Laser Center for botox or restyalene injections.

One of the most well-known places is the Bumrungrad Medical Center in Bangkok, Thailand, which sees 850,000 overseas patients annually and is at the cutting edge of medical tourism. Bumunrungrad comes complete with Starbucks, McDonaldís and twenty-four hour personal service. In 2005, the hospital treated 58,000 American patients, a 25 percent increase from 2004. “We receive about 400 new e-mails a day from the United Statesî.

What are some sample costs? The cost of surgery in India, Bolivia, Thailand or South Africa can be fraction of what people pay the United States or Western Europe, For example, a heart-valve replacement that would cost $200,000 or more in the U.S., would cost $10,000 in India and that includes round-trip airfare and a brief vacation package. Lasik eye surgery costs $3,700 in the U.S. and it is available in Thailand for only $730. A full facelift that would cost $20,000 in the U.S. and it runs about $1,250 in South Africa. Two dental bridges would cost $5,000 in the U.S. would cost $$1,000 in Hungary. Root canal would cost U.S. $3,50 and in India, $400. Two other examples are the Instituto Valenciano de Infertilidad (I.V.I.), in Valencia, Spain charges $12,000 in vitro fertilization (IVF) vs $28,000 in states. In Cyprus, $2000 for hair transplants vs $4000 in U.S.

What are some of the potential problems?

-There is little follow-up care. The patient usually is in hospital for only a few days, and then goes on the vacation portion of the trip or returns home. Complications, side-effects and post-operative care are then the responsibility of the medical care system in the patients’ home country.

-Most of the countries that offer medical tourism have weak malpractice laws, so the patient has little recourse to local courts or medical boards if something goes wrong.

-For those of you shuddering at the thought of undergoing an advanced medical procedure in a foreign country, studies show that Indiaís death rate among patients undergoing surgery is only half that of most major hospitals in the United States.

What are some precautions people can take? – Contact an international medical and dental assessment organization to determine their evaluation of a facility. You can also develop a relationship with a medical organization here in the U.S. such as globalchoicehealthcare and have them make arrangements for you as well as to do follow up care. Currently Singapore boasts the largest number of US Joint Commission accredited hospitals in Southeast Asia. FYI – www.jointcommissioninternational.org, www.medexassist.com, www.jcipatientsafety.org,www.osap.org (OSAP is a global dental organization), www.globalchoicehealthcare.com

What about getting prescription drugs in Canada? Drugs rugs are 50% – 200% higher in the USA than it is in Canada due to US federal laws and a regulatory board that ensure the end costs of drugs are kept at an artificially high level. Visitors from the US may purchase up to three months worth of prescriptions at one time in Canada. For information about buying prescription drugs outside of the United States, consider visiting, the following websites: www.americandrugclub.com, www.crossborderpharmacy.com

How can people learn more? Consider visiting the following websites:




www.projectskinmd.com – Dr. Bill Macgillivray  in Vancouver

hwww.bumrungrad.com, (Bumrungrad Hospital) www.diethelmtravel.com (Bumrungrad Hospital travel agent),


www.treatmentabroad.net/cosmetic-abroad/cyprus/hdc (hair transplants)

Prepared by Elaine Lee with excerpts from article written by by Sean O’Reilly, Editor-at-Large of Travelers Tales. (www.travelerstales.com)

Scroll to Top