Health or Wallet: Pros and Cons of Medical Tourism
Every year, between 150,000 to 320,000 Americans travel to other countries to receive medical services. The most common treatments abroad include dental procedures, infertility treatments, and plastic surgeries, which are often not covered by health insurance in the United States.
Medical tourism has become such a common practice for Americans that State Department и Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have sections on their websites devoted to it. No wonder! Medical treatment in the US can be pricey even with insurance, and the lack of it is a sure way to become bankrupt. That is not just a figure of speech or exaggeration: 66,5% bankruptcies in the US are directly caused by medical expenses. Thus, healthcare is the main cause of bankruptcy in the United States. medical expenses. So health care is the main cause of ruin in America.
We asked Salah Ay, the head of the Ай, director of the Turkish clinic Cayra Clinicspecializing in treating foreigners what medical care US residents could expect abroad and what bonuses and risks were associated with medical tourism. The clinic had been providing medical services for tourists from different countries for eleven years.
“The US is not the only country from which people come here for medical treatment. European medical tourists are also coming to Turkey in large numbers. According to the authorities, Turkey welcomes more than 1 million medical tourists each year. This demand means we cannot be complacent. Clinics that specialize in serving international medical tourists must maintain high service standards, use the latest equipment, and hire the best doctors. Otherwise, clients will simply go elsewhere,” said Salah.
He noted that the unaffordable prices of medical services in the US were a side effect of high taxes, an unwieldy insurance system, and the activity of unions that demanded high salaries and bonuses for doctors who in turn must pay off their enormous student loans and debts.
“There prices of medical services in the US are legendary. However, US doctors are not more qualified than medical professionals in other developed countries, and the equipment used in the US is no better or newer than the medical devices found in the EU, Malaysia, or Turkey. For example, breast and buttock implants produced and certified in Turkey are approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Dental implants used in Turkey are manufactured in Switzerland or Germany, which are considered the best in the dental industry. . We provide our patients with all medical reports and certificates for the materials used. Meanwhile, the high-quality medical services in Turkey cost much less than in the US. Medical tourists from the United States can save anywhere from 50% to 80%, on dental care alone, which equates to hundreds or even thousands of dollars compared to US prices. And all of this comes without any compromise in quality," clarified Salah.
But a trip for treatment abroad will cost you more than paying only for medical care. Apart from that, you would need to arrange travel and accommodation, which are additional expenses.
You are responsible for finding and purchasing your own airline ticket. Until recently, many Americans chose Mexico as a destination for medical tourism, likely due to its close proximity and affordable travel options. However, some regions in Mexico are classified as "Level 4: Do Not Travel"by the US Department of State due to the high risk of crime and kidnapping. This warning appears to be justified after a recent terrifying incident. Four Americans traveled to Mexico to support a friend who was scheduled to undergo cosmetic surgery. Shortly after crossing the border, they were kidnapped and only two of them were rescued..
Therefore, many people are now searching for safer options and often choose Turkey, which is a hub for many airlines. Due to intense competition and efforts to attract more customers, it offers more affordable flights than Asian countries where medical tourism is also developed.
Furthermore, the US Department of State considers Turkey to be a safe travel destination. The level of danger there is the same as in France, United Kingdom or Italy, but the prices for medical services are low.
You can find Inexpensive tickets on aggregators like Skyscanner, Momondo, Airfarewatchdog and ITA Matrix. For a few more good tips on saving money on flights here.
A medical procedure is not like a manicure. The patient needs to be observed before and after it. Aside from that, if the patient is a foreigner, it is necessary to provide them with comfort and not force them to travel back and forth across an unfamiliar city for check-ups and tests.
Therefore, medical tourism clinics often have hotels where not only patients but their relatives can stay. That way, the post-procedure recovery, which can take up to two weeks, becomes vacation time with family in a charming country or even on the beach.
According to the director of the Cayra Clinic, they meet patients at the airport and accommodate them in hotel rooms on the clinic’s premises. Relatives can also stay with the patient. Medical personnel are always on duty to provide assistance to patients if needed.
According to Salah, "The rooms are nothing like hospital wards and resemble more of a resort. They are bright, cozy, with large windows offering views of the city. Each room comes with a microwave, DVD player, cable TV with international channels, air conditioning, Wi-Fi, Netflix, and more. Typically, breakfast is included in the hotel price, but each package also has the option to add a meal plan, including an all-inclusive option. The hotel features a restaurant, a spa center with a sauna, hammam, and massage room, as well as tour booking services."
The Risks of Medical Tourism and How to Minimize Them
SERVICE QUALITY. In some countries, the requirements for maintaining doctors' licensure and accreditation are lower than in the US, and sometimes they fall below the standard necessary for patient safety. This can result not only in medical outcomes that are poorer than expected, but also poses a risk of contracting infections, including dangerous viral diseases such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV.
Therefore, when choosing a country for medical tourism, you shouldn’t base your decision solely on the cost of services. Take the time to research the overall state of the healthcare system and the qualifications of doctors in the country you plan to visit for treatment.
“You shouldn't chase after the low price. In some countries, patients face risks that healthy people don’t usually consider. For example, bacterial infections that are resistant to antibiotics. These infections exist everywhere, but the risk of contracting them varies by country. Turkey has high standards for doctors. As a result, it ranks high among destinations for medical tourism worldwide. According to the health care index by country based on patient reviews, Turkey ranked 27th which is higher than the United States. The Lancet medical journal placed the Turkish healthcare system 60th out of 195 countries,” noted Salah.
Still, having high ratings is not enough. You should also check the hospital. There is always a risk to come across fraud or malpractice even in the countries with the best healthcare systems.
Before traveling abroad for medical treatment, be sure to check the clinic’s international accreditation. You can do this on websites such as:
- Joint Commission International;
- DNV GL International Accreditation for Hospitals;
- International Society for Quality in Healthcare.
Other important facts to keep in mind are how long the clinic has been in business, what other patients say about their experience with it ( read testimonials )and what is the hiring process for their doctors.
"Cayra Clinic certified by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Tourism and Culture of Turkey. We have received 2 ISO certificates for our care of patients. Moreover, every member of our medical team holds certificates and scientific publications on specific treatments,” explained Salah.
COMMUNICATION. If you’ve been living in the US for a long time, you most likely have a good command of English. But when you visit the doctor, you’ll need to describe your symptoms: is it a stabbing pain, a cutting sensation, or maybe a nagging ache, which specific organ is causing discomfort. It might not be easy to explain.
If that’s not challenging enough, imagine arriving for medical treatment in a country whose official language is not English. Neither you, nor your doctor are native English speakers. Establishing efficient communication can be a daunting task.
Clinics that cater to medical tourists usually recognize this challenge and hire coordinators who are native speakers of different languages.
“Our personnel have an excellent command of English. Additionally, our clinics in Istanbul and Antalya provide coordinatorswho speak different languages. Liya and Olya, for instance, are native Ukrainian speakers. There are members who speak English, Russian, German, Italian, Spanish, Arabic, Lithuanian and French,” noted Salah.
Do not expect this kind of service everywhere though, and make certain the hospital in question provides this kind of service before traveling.
AIR TRAVEL AFTER SURGERY. Flying after surgery increases the risk of developing blood clots, including deep vein thrombosis. Therefore, you should avoid flying home immediately after surgery.
“I highly recommend not to rush things after the procedure. If you get chest or abdominal surgery you shouldn’t travel by air for at least 10 days. Changes in atmospheric pressure pose big risks for these patients. People who get cosmetic procedures of the face, eyelids, or nose, or who had laser treatments should wait 7-10 days before flying. We offer accommodation and care options which cover the required recovery time before the patient can fly home,” Salah said.
According to him, the hotel at Cayra Clinic offers excursion services for such patients.: “Turkey is a tourist mecca, with plenty to see. The sea, mountains and historical landmarks - our patients won’t be bored while waiting for their return flight.”
CONTINUOUS MEDICAL CARE. Doctors need to be informed about your health status, any allergies, and contraindications you may have, before commencing treatment. As there is no global database of patients, you should bring your medical records and lab test results when traveling abroad for treatment. Additionally, do not forget to inform doctors at your destination about your allergies and medications you take.
After completing your treatment, it is important to obtain all medical records from the foreign clinic detailing the procedures performed and your current health condition. If you require further treatment in the United States, your doctor needs to be aware of what procedures you underwent and how they were conducted. You may need to have these documents translated into English.
“We provide Cayra Clinic’s patients with travel medical insurance, medical treatment records written in seven languages,and also, certificates for the materials used during the procedure,” explained Salah.
Other Important Things to Do Before Traveling for Treatment to Another Country:
- Consult with your US doctor, especially if the procedure you plan to undergo at a foreign clinic is related to a treatment process you started in the US, or if you have a chronic disease.
- Purchase international medical insurance that covers medical evacuation back to the United States. You can buy it directly from the Cayra Clinic.
Keep in mind that travel insurance is a special type of medical insurance policy. It does not cover dentist or In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) abroad. Such insurance is designed to save your wallet in case of emergency situations in another country. When you travel abroad to see a doctor with a pre-existing condition, the travel insurance won’t cover those services.
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