Medical tourism is not so frequent and not so dollar-wise

January 10, 2011

Medical tourism is not so frequent and not so dollar-wise
Medical tourism is not so frequent and not so dollar-wise

The growth of the recent trend for Americans to travel abroad for medical treatment may be exaggerated. There is now hard data about the frequency of American medical tourism. Brandon Alleman, University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, performed a telephone survey of the companies that expedite foreign travel for medical treatment. Lynne Peeples reports on these findings for Reuters Health on December 31, 2010.

Alleman surveyed 45 companies, representing about 70 percent of the industry that expedites overseas medical travel for United States residents. Prior reports had indicated that a whopping 500,000 to 2 million Americans had been referred for treatment overseas. But, in fact, Alleman’s survey of 70 percent of the market demonstrates that only 13,500 Americans were referred for overseas medical procedures.

Those people that believe the less medical tourism, the better, will be happy with Alleman’s statistics. Traveling to foreign countries for treatment, primarily for orthopedic, cardiac, infertility and cosmetic procedures, has been a controversial subject fraught with tales of unsanitary and inadequate facilities, unlicensed practitioners, untested procedures and lack of aftercare coordination.

Needless to say, Americans have done this to save a buck. But there is an ironic twist. Peeples reports, “… the team also found that the prices of procedures overseas were similar to what Medicare pays for the same procedures in the U.S. A heart bypass surgery costs an average of $18,600 outside the country, for example, and Medicare pays about $21,000 for the procedure.”

Americans traveling overseas for medical procedures are concerned with quality of care. Companies facilitating these medical junkets do investigate accreditation and certification of their foreign providers or hospitals.

But, what about follow-up care? Researchers discovered that 93 percent of the companies expected follow-up care to be delivered by U.S. physicians. However, there is no research on the method of planning for follow-up care. Is the follow-up care coordinated prior to the surgery or is it delivered in U.S. emergency rooms?

When undergoing plastic surgery, healing and aftercare are paramount. The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery warns patients to make informed choices when going abroad for plastic surgery. Following safety guidelines or choosing a board-certified plastic surgeon associated with ASAPS can greatly limit the risks. 

The mission of the Aesthetic Society includes medical education, public education and patient advocacy. Plastic Surgery News Briefs are summaries of current stories found through various news and magazine outlets that relate to or mention plastic surgery and cosmetic procedures. The views expressed in these news articles do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Aesthetic Society, but are merely published as an educational service to our members and the general public. For additional information on these subjects and other plastic surgery related topics, please go to

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