As international travel becomes more affordable but our home economies continue to look grim, many more westerners are exploring international solutions to their expensive health conditions every year. Hospitals and clinics in countries outside of Western Europe, the United States, Canada, and Australia and New Zealand often charge a fraction of what they would locally. But before booking your flight to get that complicated tooth extraction, consider all factors fully.
On the plus side…
You’ll often save incredible amounts of money, even when factoring in flights and time off of work. Medical costs in industrialized nations without socialized care are immense, and those places that do have heavily subsidized bills must often endure long waiting lists. In the end, traveling abroad can save you a lot of spending money, and get you the treatment you need sooner. Depending on the country and hospital in question, your current health insurance may even cover it (a topic that deserves very solid research and a long conversation with your insurance provider). At the same time—you get to go on vacation! Hospitals never don’t suck, but at least if you’re in a hospital in Bangkok you can go recover on the beach after your appendectomy. The standards of care aren’t even necessarily lower—in many quickly developing countries the health systems have equal or even higher standards than those back home.
In many cases, you get what you pay for. By choosing to engage in medical tourism, you are rolling the dice to an extent. The qualified practice of western medicine requires extensive education and testing that may be lacking at your destination. Follow-up care is difficult unless you stay in-country for an extended period, and there could be fine print in any payment plan. Staff may or may not speak adequate English to communicate the details of your condition or treatment, and facilities may not be up to the comfortable standard that you expect. Again, this is entirely dependent on what hospital you check into in which country—don’t make blanket judgments based on what you hear about one place. Once you get back home, your regular doctors may judge any treatment that you’ve received abroad unfavorably due to their own prejudices.
The answer to this question depends on where you’re coming from. Americans often choose Mexico as their destination of choice, Australians and Kiwis head to SE Asian hubs like Singapore, Bangkok, and Kuala Lampur, and Brits go to whichever of their former colonies they have the greatest affiliation with (and costs the least amount). But whether you’re an American driving down to Mexico, or a Kiwi booking a Singapore hotel to get some work done, do extensive research into any medical facilities you are considering treatment at, including reviews of satisfied and unsatisfied patients before making a decision.