Medical tourism is the practice of traveling to another country to obtain medical or dental treatment. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), approximately 750,000 Americans travel to other countries each year to receive medical care.
Why Travel for Health Care?
Why would anyone consider traveling to another country to obtain medical care? The primary motivation behind the willingness of patients to pursue this alternative is cost. Frequently, the procedures patients seek are provided at a much lower fee than comparable procedures performed in the United States.
A second group of patients traveling for medical care are immigrants to the United States who choose to return to their native country for treatment. Cost is also often a motivation for these patients, who may receive treatment under systems of nationalized health care or other types of coverage for which they retain eligibility as natives of these countries.
The Risks of Medical Tourism and Dental Tourism
The reality is that most medical and dental tourism takes place in less developed countries. The primary reason these countries are able to provide care at less cost is because they are held to much lower standards of treatment than their colleagues in more developed nations. Patients considering travel to a foreign country are advised by the CDC to be aware of several inherent risks:
- Poor Infection Control
- We take for granted in the United States that our doctors will diligently utilize precautions to avoid transmission of deadly diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis. Medical and dental providers in foreign countries may not be as reliable with practices such as instrument sterilization, one time use for needles and other items, or even basic practices such as disinfecting surfaces and hands.
- Risk of Antibiotic Resistant Infections
- Dangerous bacteria that may be resistant to typical antibiotic therapies can be more prevalent in less developed nations.
- Poor Quality of Medications
- Drugs administered or prescribed in foreign countries are often not subjected to the quality control, purity, and effectiveness criteria found in the United States
- Poor Quality of Materials
- Dental and Orthopedic procedures often include the use of implants of various types. These may range from prosthetic joints to dental implants, or even crowns or bridges on teeth. These implements are also not subject to the same quality control criteria found in developed nations.
- Lack of Training of Practitioners
- Many doctors and dentists practicing in other countries do not have the level of training found in the U.S. Many of these doctors would in fact be prohibited from practicing in the United States without additional training and documentation of competency.
- Reduced Access to Management of Emergencies
- If you experience a medical emergency related to your care in a foreign country, it is probable that the access to emergency care would not be of the same quality that you would find in any American community.
- Reduced Access to Management of Complications
- Every medical or dental procedure carries some risk of unexpected complications in the days, weeks and months following the treatment. If your doctor is a long plane flight away, you may find your local doctor unwilling to manage the complication resulting from your foreign doctor’s treatment.
Our society, over the past several decades, has transitioned from a level of reverence and respect for the art and science of medicine and dentistry to a view of these professions as a commodity like any other. To some extent, this perception is beneficial as it encourages medical and dental professionals to work in a competitive environment and to continually strive to provide more value to the patient a more cost efficient manner. However, this paradigm becomes problematic when patients focus on price and exclude other considerations. All medical and dental care is not equal. With medical and dental tourism, some patients are weighing saving money against a possible bad outcome or even loss of life.
Because of the inability to assure critical quality controls that protect the patient from injury, and because of the difficulty obtaining follow-up care once returning home, patients are discouraged from seeking care outside the United States. The simple truth is the financial savings is often not worth the possible price paid on many other levels.
For more information about traveling for medical and dental care, watch for our follow-up to this article discussing medical and dental tourism within the United States.
Services at the Surgical Arts Centre
We offer our patients one-on-one care in the privacy and safety of our state-of-the-art medical center in Missoula, Montana. If you are in need of surgical dental care, facial cosmetic surgery, or non-invasive facial treatments, please contact us today to request a consultation: (406) 549-6600.