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Could Medical Tourism Increase Healthcare Accessibility?
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Could Medical Tourism Increase Healthcare Accessibility?

With all the current discussion about healthcare coverage in the United States and a proposed bill to allow importation of prescription drugs from other countries, it’s worth looking at whether getting health care services in other countries could save people with chronic conditions time, money, and livelihood.

What is Medical Tourism?

Medical tourism is the term used to describe the act of traveling to a different country in order to receive medical treatment. There are two categories of medical tourism. Historically, the most common type involved people from third-world or less-developed countries traveling to major medical centers to receive treatment unavailable in their homeland. As technology has advanced and more doctors across the world have access to quality medical education and equipment, many people in first-world countries are choosing to go abroad to receive cheaper medical services and avoid long wait times.

For the most part, medical tourism is turned to for major surgeries and operations, or for rare conditions that are better understood in a different region. There are lots of benefits to medical tourism, but there are also risks with traveling right before or after treatment, and patients, as always, are recommended to seek multiple consults before undergoing treatment.

The History of Travelling for Health Care

As far back as Ancient Greece, people have undergone medical pilgrimages to destinations with healing waters, gods, or medical experts. In 18th century Europe, the wealthy often traveled to natural spas with mineral waters to treat gout, bronchitis, liver disorders, and more. In the 19th century, Americans would commonly “go west for their health”, as it was thought fresh air and an escape from city life could cure people of various ailments.

Medical Tourism Today

Today, the main obstacle to healthcare access is affordability. In the United States, people with chronic conditions who need multiple surgeries and operations can find difficulty receiving health care coverage. Currently, insurance companies are barred from rejecting applicants based on preexisting conditions, but that has not always been the case and is not guaranteed to stay as a requirement. People with severe mobility issues, blindness, deafness, and neurological conditions are among those most likely to struggle to cover medical costs.

The internet makes it easy to find experts in any medical field and compare the costs of getting treatment around the world. With more people looking for affordable healthcare options worldwide, it’s more important than ever for medical professionals to promote cultural awareness and patient-centered care.

Medical Tourism could be one way to make healthcare more accessible, particularly for people with chronic conditions requiring multiple medical procedures. Of course, it’s always important to check the credentials and medical history of any medical professional, regardless of what country they practice in. You also should be aware of medical standards and regulations that may or may not exist in certain parts of the world, to ensure you’ll be in a safe medical environment.

Have you traveled abroad to receive medical treatment? Share your experiences in the comments below!

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons

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