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What are the Risks Associated with Medical Tourism?

Although there are many benefits associated with medical tourism, there are also certain risks that must be weighed before making a final decision to travel abroad.

Varying standards and Medical Tourism

Varying standards with regards to hospitals and physicians can be a problem if you are searching for options within multiple countries with dozens of hospitals. Each country will have its own licensing and certification protocols which may vary significantly from the U.S. As you have no way of actually visiting the hospital or meeting the physician prior to your trip, you will have to do research to make sure hospitals are accredited and surgeons are licensed. MedicalTourism.com offers a wealth of information and tools that will make this job much easier.

Travel after surgery

Traveling long distances after surgery also poses certain risks such as deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism. DVT may be defined as a blood clot that forms in a vein deep in the body. If the blood clot breaks off and travels through the blood stream to the lungs, a pulmonary embolism may occur which is potentially fatal. Using simple preventive measures, however, medical tourism patients can reduce the chance of blood clotting and increase their likelihood of surgical success. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends:

  • Getting up and walking around every 2 to 3 hours.
  • Exercise your legs while you’re sitting
  • Drink plenty of water, and avoid drinking anything with alcohol or caffeine in it.

Additionally, medical compression stockings and anti-clotting medications such as Warfarin and Heparin, may be prescribed by physicians for high risk medical tourism patients.

Minimal legal recourse in case something goes wrong

It is important to remember that if you do have a serious complication, other countries' malpractice and liability recourses are not like those in the United States, and may take years to navigate if there is, in fact, any recourse at all. Many international hospitals require a medical tourism patient to sign a legal waiver stating that if they do bring a lawsuit over the surgery the lawsuit must be brought in the country where the medical procedure was performed. This means that there is very limited legal recourse when you travel for medical tourism as legal judgments internationally are significantly less than in the US, Canada or the United Kingdom.

Coordinating appropriate aftercare once you come home, returning from medical tourism

This is one the biggest concerns for medical tourism patients considering traveling abroad for surgery. What happens if I have a complication once I return home? Who will I turn to? Will my doctor even see me? These are valid questions that must be addressed by international hospitals, facilitators and insurance companies (the medical tourism community) before we can expect the concept of traveling abroad for surgery to really come into its own.

Various initiatives are actively being pursued that in the short to medium term would allow for various physician/nursing networks to be formed in order to provide international patients with effective aftercare solutions.

Presently the best advice is to inform your primary physician that you will be going overseas and try to get him or her involved in the process. You may also want to try and schedule a call between your primary physician and your international doctor to discuss your case. This is wise not only at a medical level (you want your international physician to know as much as possible about your case history), but also has the potential to establish trust between both parties, making your physician empathetic toward your situation and wanting to be an active participant in the success of your procedure.

Granted, this is a pretty optimistic scenario as many U.S physicians will try to dissuade you from going internationally for your surgery through medical tourism. And if you don’t have a regular physician, you may have trouble convincing a doctor to see you after you return, once they find out you had your surgery in a “developing” country.

Therefore it is vital that you speak openly with your international physician about potential complications, how to minimize these, and what role he or she would play if problems come up back home.

At present, and in order to minimize potential complications, many international hospitals and physicians do maintain close contact with their medical tourism patients once they have returned home. Therefore you should not feel shy about contacting them if you feel something is wrong. At the very least your overseas physician can offer recommendations about what medications to take, who to see, or possibly even explain details of your condition to another doctor.

Remember why you traveled for medical tourism

Finally, you need to remember that the primary reason for your medical tourism trip is the procedure or treatment and not to sunbathe or visit a tropical rainforest. Surgery is always a serious business, and not enough rest or too much activity can delay your recovery or even lead to complications. Too much sun can also darken scars and make them more noticeable.

This is not to say that you should abstain from tourism and immersing yourself in a new culture. This is one of the exciting and vigorous aspects of medical tourism. There are even instances where you can take advantage of a vacation to get a medical check-up or a dental procedure done. However, it is best to vacation before the surgery, or with your surgeon’s express permission once you have rested sufficiently from your procedure.