13 Smart Questions and Quick Answers About Medical Tourism

What you need to know before deciding to travel abroad for healthcare.

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8. What if They Don't Speak English? Every country catering to international health travelers offers a host of English-speaking physicians, staff, and third-party agencies. If English is your native tongue and you're uncomfortable speaking another language, then insist on English. If hospitals or clinics you've contacted can't furnish English-speaking doctors, don't be embarrassed. Politely thank them and move on. Your continued research will lead you to professionals who can converse in your native tongue.

9. How Realistic Is the "Vacation" Part of the Trip? That depends on the type of treatment you're seeking, how much time you have, and how comfortable you feel combining leisure travel with the medical side of your trip. Most patients who take a vacation as part of a healthcare journey are either planning to travel anyway or have allocated a good deal of additional time for recreation as well as recovery. There's a big difference.

We encourage patients to focus more on their treatment and recovery than on tourism, even for the less invasive procedures. Websites and health travel brochures peppered with zealous promotion ("Enjoy Fabulous Rainforest Vacation While Recovering From Your Tummy Tuck!") ignore the realities of health travel. Long flights, post-treatment recovery, and just plain being alone in a faraway place can be overwhelming, even for the most optimistic health traveler.

Think of your medical journey more as a business trip than a leisure junket. Consider socking away some of your savings for a separate vacation you and a loved one can take after the primary challenge of managing your immediate health need is behind you. Then, by all means, break out the champagne at a far-flung exotic hideaway, and celebrate your health and good fortune.

10. What if Complications Arise After I Return Home? Depending on your treatment, your physician or surgeon will usually strongly advise you to stay in-country for at least a few days post treatment. Your doctor will want to make sure that your treatment went well, your medications are working as they should, you're settling into any recommended physical therapies, and required follow-ups are going according to plan. Thus, by the time you board the plane home, your risk of complications will be greatly reduced.

In the unlikely event that you develop complications after returning home, you'll need to decide whether to make a return trip or continue your treatment at home. Some procedures, such as dental work, are guaranteed; so it may well be financially worthwhile, albeit inconvenient, to return. If you choose not to, most overseas dentists and surgeons are happy to talk with your hometown physician to discuss complications and recommend further action.

Prior to traveling abroad for treatment, be sure to let your local doctors know your plans. It's better to alert them beforehand than to surprise them after the fact.

11. Will My Health Insurance Cover My Overseas Medical Expenses? As of this writing, probably not. While the largest U.S. employers and healthcare insurers—not to mention our ever vocal politicians—struggle with new models of coverage, most plans do not yet cover the costs of obtaining treatment abroad. Yet, with healthcare costs threatening to literally bust the economy, pressures for change are mounting. Recognizing that globalization of healthcare is now a reality—and that the United States is falling behind—insurers, employers, and hospitals are now aggressively beginning to form partnerships with payers and providers abroad. By the time you read this, large insurers may already be offering coverage (albeit limited) across borders. You may want to check with your insurer for the latest on your coverage abroad.

12. Can I Sue? The United States is well known as Earth's most litigious nation. For better or worse, most countries outside the United States do not share our attitude toward personal and institutional liability. While all countries listed in Patients Beyond Borders have established channels of legal recourse, the intricacies of working with foreign statutes, legal systems, and counsel make such action impractical except in the most egregious cases.