Millions of people embark on international travel each year not to take a vacation but instead seek out medical care. This type of travel, called medical tourism, is growing in popularity because health tourists can obtain relatively high-quality healthcare services at prices that are a fraction of the cost for what they would have to pay at home. However, medical tourism invites risks for both the host country and travelers themselves. These risks could greatly restrict this type of travel in the future.
The Consequences of Health Tourism
While many medical tourists travel to get cheaper healthcare services, some travelers aim to pay absolutely nothing for their care. Instead of the care being given to them at no cost, however, these people leave the clinic or hospital with the bill, often leaving the country without settling their accounts first.
These people’s unpaid bills leave clinics and hospitals in dire straights when it comes to balancing their budgets and making sure they have enough money to go around for people who actually live and pay into the host country’s medical system. Some hospitals like the Blackpool Victoria Hospital in the U.K. are already strapped for cash but forced to absorb these defaulted bills. They have no way to collect on the bills because the tourists leave the country and may not even leave behind legitimate contact information.
While international travelers are asked to have their own forms of health insurance before embarking on their journeys, some visitors are not so mindful to this detail. They know that they can go to a clinic or hospital and receive the care they need without having to pay any money upfront. They then leave and default on the bill, forcing the medical provider to pay for the bill out of dwindling funds provided by the government.
This increasingly common habit of less than scrupulous visitors could lead to hospitals refusing service to visitors from overseas. It also could lead to a decline in services provided to everyone regardless of where they live.
The Risks of Medical Tourism
Medical tourism is catching on in America as the healthcare costs in the U.S. continue to rise. People who cannot afford insurance or simply want to spare their budgets may find it simpler and cheaper to go overseas to get the care they want or need. Some of the favorite places to where Americans travel include Brazil, Malaysia, and Costa Rica. They may find care in these countries that is not available in the U.S. as well.
Before they embark on their medical journeys, however, Americans are reminded of the risks that could await them once they are checked into the hospital and at their most vulnerable. First, they may find it difficult to communicate with their doctors if their doctors do not speak English. Even if they speak English, the physicians may not speak it well enough to allow for open and effective communication.
Second, patients should think about whether or not the countries to which they travel have the same rigorous standards for screening blood. Blood transfusion infections like HIV may not show up for years. People should research the blood screening standards before undergoing invasive surgery.
Will Health Tourists Be Able to Continue their Practice?
A number of other risks are involved with medical tourism regardless of where patients live and from where they travel. One of the most confounding complications for host countries centers around defaulted bills, however. Health tourists who plan to seek out medical care in other countries are advised to bring along health insurance or cash. Defaulted bills put this practice at risk and compromise the quality of medical services for everyone.
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