Do you love to travel?  Do you also have a pressing medical need?

Then medical tourism may be for you!  Medical tourism means traveling to a different country to receive medical, dental, or vision care.‘  People choose to do this for many reasons, including affordability, better access to care, or a higher level of care.‘  Americans travel abroad for many procedures, but the most common are: fertility treatments, cosmetic or obesity surgery, dentistry, or procedures not available in the United States like stem cell treatment.  Medical tourism is booming business!  It is estimated that in 2012 alone more than 600,000 Americans went abroad to seek medical treatment.


Medical tourism has a long and storied history, dating back to 1999.  In that year the United States launched the Joint Commission International, or the JCI.  The JCI sets rigorous standards that international hospitals must adhere to in order to become accredited.  Globally, there are over 400 accredited hospitals! The number of accredited hospitals around the world is growing by 20% every year. 

We know accredited hospitals will give us the same level of care as we can get in the United States, but what about the cost?  Border towns in Mexico as well as locations in other countries have enticed many Americans to receive more affordable dental care or surgical procedures.  These procedures typically cost less than half of what they would pay at home.  Let’s compare the cost of some common healthcare procedures at home and abroad:

  • At home a coronary bypass graft costs $88,000 and yet in India it is just $9,500
  • A hip replacement averages $33,000 in the U.S. and $12,500 in Mexico
  • In the United States a heart bypass costs $144,000 and only $14,082 in Colombia
  • Breast implants cost $10,000 in the U.S. and only a quarter of that, $2,500, in Colombia

In 2012 a World Health Organization report recognized Colombia as a leader in medical tourism, overtaking many developed countries such as the United States, Canada, Germany, and Switzerland.  Another notable location for medical tourism is the Cayman Islands, where local and international investors have contributed $2 billion to build a 2,000 bed hospital to service American tourists.

While there are several great reasons to consider medical tourism, there are also a few precautions to take in mind!  First, be sure to thoroughly compare costs.  While you budget make sure to include travel costs, as well as any hidden costs from the international hospital.  Next compare timelines.  Could you get the procedure done sooner at home or abroad?  Then scope out locations. What country is best to receive your treatment?  Remember to make sure your hospital is JCI accredited and check the qualifications of your specific doctor.  Investigate any potential language barriers.  When it comes to your health. you must make sure you can understand and be understood. Don’t forget to consider the length of time you will need to be away.  Take into account the length of time for the procedure, but also the recuperation you’ll need to have in country.  Lastly, have a clear understanding of the care you will need when you return home.  Make your plan and a budget accordingly.

Weigh the pros and cons carefully, but remember affordable and safe healthcare could be fount on your next vacation!

Statistics taken from: It Really Is True!
Medical Services ARE Cheaper and Better Abroad. Ready for Anything Report. Stefan Gleason, President. Independent Living.

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