How familiar are you with the concept of medical tourism? In a nutshell, medical tourism is a phrase coined to describe the decision by persons of one country to travel to another country specifically for the purpose of getting either cheaper or better (and it is to be hoped both) medical care. Medical tourism is quite popular because sometimes the cost of health care treatment in other countries can be a mere tenth the cost of the same in the US. And many countries-especially in South America and Africa-are actually embracing medical tourism as a promotional gimmick. But are those who might benefit the most-at least financially-among the top medical tourists in the world? Are Americans among the world’s biggest medical tourists?
Most Americans sincerely believe that their US offers the best medical treatment in the world. At the same time, many US citizens cannot afford the insurance to pay for some of the more expensive treatments. The monkey wrench thrown into this complicated dichotomy is the fact that Americans also love to find a bargain. (Which goes a long way toward explaining how for every job Walmart produces in a community, it takes away 1.5 jobs due to specialty stores that compete with Walmart’s vaunted low prices are forced out of business.) Medical tourism is quickly becoming a hot trend among residents of developed countries with high health care costs, but Americans are not as likely to seek out certain types of procedures as residents of other countries, despite the availability of a bargain.
When it comes to medical treatment that is related to high risk surgery such as those involving significant organs like the brain or heart, Americans tend to be suspicious and unwilling to take the risk of traveling for treatment to another country. Because the American health care system is generally held in such high esteem-and because anecdotal horror stories and urban legends have cast a pall over foreign countries where the treatment would be inexpensive enough to warrant the trip-the trade-off of saving money just isn’t viewed as being worth it.
There are basically two types of medical tourism treatments that most Americans will consider the risk/expense ratio worth taking a chance on. The first one is plastic surgery. This is an elective surgery that may not always qualify for insurance, making the cheaper foreign alternative more attractive. In addition, this kind of surgery typically isn’t viewed as a high risk, despite the fact that, of course, all surgery involving anesthesia is certainly subject to tragic outcomes. In addition to the cosmetic surgery, Americans are also likely to engage I medical tourism when it comes to seeking alternative medical treatments. This is especially true for patients facing serious ailments with little chance of recovery who have reached the point of willingness to try treatments of a final resort quality that aren’t sanctioned by US health providers.
Americans who are willing to experiment with medical tourism also tend to be much pickier than their European counterparts preferring to visit countries with which they have a pre-existing comfort level with physicians of that nationality. As a result, countries with a large population of expatriate doctors practicing in America such as India are more likely to see American medical tourists than such countries with which Americans are less familiar like African nations or South American nations.
Americans do engage in medical tourism like residents of other developed countries, but to a far less impressive degree. The confidence that most Americans still retain in their crumbling health care system limits most medical tourism to either cosmetic or last best hope status.