The concept of medical tourism is not a new one, but dates back thousands of years to when Greek pilgrims traveled from all over the Mediterranean to the small territory in the Saronic Gulf called Epidauria, the territory of the healing god Asklepios. Epidauria became the original travel destination for medical tourism. Subsequently, spa towns and sanitariums emerged.
A large draw to current medical travel is accessibility, convenience, affordability and ease of international travel. In 2009, an estimated 600,000 Americans traveled abroad for plastic surgery. Popular cosmetic surgery travel destinations include: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Mexico and Turkey. Not surprisingly, the United States heads the list of popular sites for health tourism, and generates $5.5 billion annually. Brazil is in second position. Europe as a whole, is listed third. Dr. Orhan Murat Özdemir, a plastic surgeon in Turkey states that “Nearly 350,000 people visit Turkey annually to receive treatment and spend nearly $20 million dollars. In Turkey, dental aesthetics in particular, bring a consumer cost advantage in excess of 50% savings over the US and the rest of Europe.”
But, medical tourism carries several risks. Infectious disease may be acquired when there is exposure to pathogens without having built up natural immunity. In addition, misdiagnoses in the homeland may be frequent because diseases acquired on foreign soil are perceived to be “rare.” Hospitals and doctors may not be accredited to US, UK or Canadian standards. Long distance travel home soon after surgery can increase the risk of complications as can vacation activities such as strenuous exercise, sun exposure, alcohol consumption and lifting heavy luggage. Surgical complications may not be adequately addressed in countries with unfamiliar legal systems and hospitals and/or doctors may be unable to pay for financial damages. In an extreme situation, the cost of a medical air “ambulance” home can cost more than the list price of a new car. So, consumer beware of a false surgical economy! You may be lucky to get what you pay for!
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