Medical tourism is a fast-growing industry in Australia and has been the topic of a lot of media stories lately. Media exposure is mostly a good thing for the industry – it educates people about an option they might not have been aware of, having high-quality medical treatment overseas at an affordable price.
But the media don’t tell the whole story. Not all medical tourism providers and facilitators are the same. Here are some common beliefs about medical tourism that might be true in a few cases, but certainly don’t apply to the industry as a whole.
1. Healthcare overseas is always riskier than healthcare in Australia
Yes, there are some unscrupulous medical practitioners abroad. But if you do some preliminary research – and preferably get some advice from a reputable medical tourism facilitator – having a medical procedure overseas needn’t be any riskier than having it in Australia. (Bear in mind that there are risks associated with any medical system, no matter where you have it.)
Here are some questions you should make sure you can answer before you commit to an overseas medical procedure:
- Have the inherent risks of the system were explained to me?
- Is the facility accredited by an organization like the Joint Commission International?
- Is my doctor experienced in this procedure?What’s his/her success rate?
- Have I allowed adequate recovery time after my procedure before I travel back to Australia?
2. Medical tourism is all about price
It’s true that many people are attracted to health travel because of the significant cost savings they can make compared to having medical treatment in Australia. But that’s not the only reason to consider traveling overseas for health care.
Here are some of the other benefits of medical tourism:
- treatment when you want it, with no waiting lists
- luxurious medical facilities (comparable in some cases to 5-star hotels)
- a very high standard of nursing care and personal attention
- access to new techniques and treatments that aren’t yet available in Australia
- the chance to have medical treatment while on holiday (especially valid for less invasive procedures)
3. Medical tourism is all about cosmetic surgery
Some Australian medical tourism facilitators heavily promote cosmetic surgery packages as their primary offering. It’s easy to get the impression that cosmetic surgery is the only kind of medical procedure you can get overseas.
But nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, think of a medical procedure, and the chances are you can access it overseas, at a quality that’s at least comparable to what you can get in Australia. Some of the most popular kinds of overseas medical treatment are:
- eye surgery such as LASIK
- preventative diagnostics
- obesity treatment
- orthopedic and joint surgery such as knee and hip replacements
- fertility treatment
- spine treatment
- alternative health
4. Medical tourism is for Americans
You might assume that most medical tourists are American. It’s true that the cost savings associated with medical tourism are especially attractive to a large number of Americans without adequate health insurance.
But as I’ve already said, medical tourism isn’t all about price. There’s recently been a massive growth in the numbers of medical tourists coming from the UK and other Western European countries. Like Australia, these are countries with universal public health care. But also like Australia, patients are often forced to wait a long time for the procedures they need.
One of the significant benefits of medical tourism is the chance to have your procedure performed when you need it, not when the hospital system can fit you in. And then, of course, there are many procedures – like cosmetic and dental surgery – that aren’t even covered by Medicare.
5. Medical tourism means an exotic holiday with a medical system thrown in
It’s easy to get the impression that medical tourism is mostly about travel, with a bit of medical care as an added extra.
Unfortunately, the medical tourism industry is partly to blame for this perception. Some medical tourism providers and facilitators fill their brochures and websites with pictures of exotic locations as if their customers’ health needs were nothing but an afterthought.
This approach might be fair enough for non-invasive procedures, or for some dental procedures with minimal recovery time. But if you have a severe operation, your priority should be your health.
You need to allow plenty of time for recovery – which means total rest. Medical tourism experts recommend you think of health travel as a business trip. You’re in the business of getting better – seeing the sights can be an excellent bonus, but it shouldn’t be the reason for your trip.