Medical tourism

By Carrie Johnson Weimar • Published: April 13th, 2009
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

There’s nothing like vacation. Sun, sand and… surgery?

It may sound strange, but as medical costs skyrocket in the United States and other Western countries, more people are seeking treatment in other countries that promote themselves as quick, cheap alternatives to receiving care at home. The practice is called medical tourism. And it’s expected to increase by a factor of ten in the United States over the next decade, according to a report released by Deloitte Consulting.

The most highly requested services include complex surgeries such as hip or joint replacements, cardiac surgery, dental surgery and cosmetic surgery. Popular locations include Singapore, India, South Africa and Thailand.

Why would anyone hop on a plane to undergo major surgery? Cost is the biggest motivator. For example, a heart valve replacement that would run more than two-hundred-thousand dollars in the United States costs less than ten-thousand-dollars in India. A full facelift that would be about twenty-thousand in the U.S. would cost just over twelve-hundred dollars in South Africa.

But of course, there are many, many risks. First, because there are different diseases in these countries, Western visitors are more susceptible to illness, especially if they are in a weakened condition. Also, legal recourses are few if the surgery is botched or complications arise.

Still, some companies are encouraging their employees to travel overseas for surgery to save on insurance costs. If the trend continues, you might find yourself browsing a medical brochure… instead of a travel pamphlet… when planning your next vacation.