The Risks of Medical Tourism and How to Minimize Them

Medical tourism is a relatively new phenomenon that sees people heading off to other countries for medical care. This is happening for many reasons, including the possibility of cheaper treatment or having a procedure that’s not available in a home country. 

Heart surgery, plastic surgery and dentistry are the most common reasons for such trips. Before you decide to hop on a plane, you need to consider various risk factors and what you can do to avoid them. 


The costs of a procedure may save you thousands if you go to another country but you need to factor in accommodation, travel and transportation. Plus, you probably won’t want to travel alone to another country for a procedure. 

Having a relative, friend or companion with you to advocate on your behalf adds to the costs. In some cases, procedures in your own country may actually end up being less costly when you factor in all the expenses. 

If you have a Mutual of Omaha Medicare Supplement, you don’t have to worry about any out-of-pocket expenses as any gaps in Medicare Plan A and B are covered. Russell Noga, owner of Meddisupps, has many years of experience in advising people on medical cover and believes that Plan G offered by Mutual of Omaha is a good choice. 

Legal issues

Many people are unaware of the fact that if they go to another country, like Brazil or Thailand, they have no legal recourse if a procedure goes wrong. If you’re a U.S. citizen and you have a procedure in the U.S., the law is on your side. 

In the U.S., complications are covered as part of the procedure from an insurance perspective, whereas in other countries, this is not always the case. Health care is highly regulated in the U.S. to ensure patient safety. 

Medical issues

Medical tourism increases the risks of hospital-acquired infections. If unsafe practices are occurring, such as the reuse of needles, serious infections like HIV or hepatitis can be transmitted. Infections with multi-resistant organisms are also a possibility and patients crossing borders for medical care may risk potential exposure to infections they wouldn’t normally encounter. 

Communication risks

Receiving care in a country where you do not speak the language increases the risks of miscommunication. You might have difficulty conveying the symptoms you are experiencing. If a procedure takes longer than you expected or something goes wrong, you may feel as though you are in the dark about what’s happening. 

Post-operative care

Every medical procedure requires some post-operative care and recuperation. Flying right after treatment can increase risks of pulmonary embolism and deep vein thrombosis. You will also need to think about the amount of time you may have to spend in another country if there are any complications. 

Actions you can take to minimize risks

  • Make sure you have a written agreement that defines treatment, supplies and care covered in the costs of the trip. 
  • Check the credentials of the facility where you will have the treatment and the qualifications of the health care providers. Accredited groups, such as the International Society for Quality in Healthcare, have standards that facilities must meet for accreditation. 
  • If you don’t speak the language, decide ahead of time how you plan to communicate with the medical professionals and caregivers. 
  • Take copies of your medical records with you and copies of your prescriptions. A list of your medications should include brand names, generic names, dosage and the manufacturer. 
  • Ensure that your regular healthcare provider knows about your plans and arrange for follow-up care before you leave. 
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