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Medical Tourism Guide

What Is Medical Tourism?

Once associated with cheap cosmetic surgery and fringe medical therapies, medical tourism (also known as health travel, medical travel, or global health care) is now rapidly gaining acceptance by both the American public and the medical community at large (the latter if somewhat reluctantly), as a real solution to the high cost of healthcare in the United States. In fact, the American Medical Association recently issued guidelines and recommendations for medical tourism patients traveling outside the U.S. for medical care.

So what is medical tourism and why does this catchy term seem to be popping up in the media so often these days? First off it may be helpful to define what medical tourism is not. It is not a vacation package sold to doctors, nor is it a pastime for folks who like to tour hospitals. It is also not strictly tourism per se, although many aspects of tourism are engaged to some degree or another.

Simply put, medical tourism can be defined as the act of traveling outside one’s own area of residence for health care. This can take the form of a two hundred mile drive to your parent’s birthplace, or it can mean flying half way around the globe to an exotic culture you know nothing about. For people without insurance or those needing medical procedures that insurance won't cover, medical tourism offers an attractive alternative to rising healthcare costs.

Traditionally medical tourism has been associated with elective procedures (procedures not seen as strictly necessary) such as cosmetic dental and plastic surgery. Destinations such as Brazil, Costa Rica and Mexico have long catered to North American body worshippers in need of a nip or a tuck. Over the last few years however, non-elective procedures such as knee and hip replacements, cardiac procedures and neurosurgery have rapidly been gaining ground and are soon expected to overtake seemingly “trivial” pursuits such as searching for the perfect smile.

Asian nations such as India, Thailand and Singapore have taken the lead in marketing their hospitals and countries to this new wave of medical tourists, most of whom are baby boomers hailing from countries in North America, Europe and the Middle East. Not to be left behind, other countries in Asia, Latin America, and Europe are now catching up and have begun to successfully attract many of these same markets with enticing offers of cheaper prices, shorter flights and cutting edge technology.

For many years the U.S was a main receptor of medical tourism patients searching for the cutting-edge medical expertise and technology. This is still the case to some degree; however, the number of incoming medical tourism patients has diminished significantly due in part to the stringent immigration restrictions on visas following the tragic events of 9/11.