Nancy made some excellent points in her post about healthcare abroad. It’s incredibly nerve-wracking to imagine serious injuries or illnesses away from home, and the fear often inhibits people from international travel.
Medical tourism, however, involves more than simply seeking treatment overseas in the case of an emergency. The idea that people can get a needed surgery (joint, cardiac, dental and cosmetic among the most popular) and combine it with vacation is turning travel abroad for treatment into a multi million dollar industry.
Before taking off to Asia I envisioned a worst case scenario and thought – New York is only a 24 hour trip if I’m really in trouble. It took only a few days in Bangkok to realize that people travel 24 hours from New York to Thailand for excellent healthcare at a fraction of the price. In fact, Thailand is one of the most popular destinations for many surgeries. Combined with a pre-surgery week at the beach, medical tourism there can make for an incredible (and cost efficient) getaway.
Considering a colonoscopy, a coronary artery bypass, or even a brow lift? Love to travel? Join the millions of people who go out of their way to combine medicine with vacation. Medical tourism agencies like this one specialize in surgery packages, tour itineraries, resort stays and spa treatments during recovery.
Farooq Siddiqui of Qatar’s Regency Travel & Tours suggests in the Bangkok Post that “The medical tourism industry in Thailand has room to grow” with many Middle Eastern patients. “Many rich Quataris like to have medical check-ups in Bangkok and stay at the JW Marriott, which offers a special rate to medical tourism clients.” The Bumrungrad International Hospital, one of Bangkok’s biggest, recorded 125,000 Arab patients in 2011.
Of course, don’t go overboard in search of cheap treatments abroad. It’s easy to get carried away by the notion of cheap surgery combined with travel, but procedures and recovery often come with catastrophic risks.
The dangers became clear after speaking to Miami plastic surgeon Dr. John Martin, who is no stranger to medical disasters abroad. He says that many patients leave the country thinking they’re saving money, but actually spend much more than if they had gone under the knife at home. One of his patients combined vacation in Columbia with some plastic surgery, and had to return several times after a bad case of postoperative complications and infection. The procedure was significantly less expensive than its Miami equivalent, but the airfare, hotels and subsequent trips costed her much more than the surgery would have been at home.
“If you go abroad, make sure you’re treated in a major city or near a near a major hospital,” John Martin says. Complications on the way back from international treatments usually offset any financial benefit of “bargain shopping” for surgeries.
Looking to combine a root canal with some exotic site seeing? Make sure to do your research. I think for now I’ll just stick with over the counter cold medicine and malaria pills from my Bangkok pharmacy.