Dr. Samuel J. Lin of Boston writes: is the risk worth the reward?
What is Medical Tourism? The Medical Tourism Association is now defining this activity as “the practice by which people from one country seek medical care from another part of the world” (dating back from Ancient Greece) at a significant price difference;with sometimes a savings cost at about 90%. To give an idea on the price difference an average quote on a tummy-tuck in the U.S is estimated at $9,750; in South America the cost is $3,500; in Boston where Dr. Lin practices it can go for as much as $16,400.
This also applies on the opposite end of the spectrum, patients from out of the country visiting the U.S in search of the latest cutting-edge medical expertise and technology. A McKinsey and Co. report found that 60,000 to 85,000 medical tourists traveled to the U.S for medical procedures. Whereas an estimated 750,000 American medical tourists traveled from the U.S to other countries exploitative of lower cost medical services, that figure is now up 250,000 from last year and is projected to increase tenfold within the decade.
Dr. Lin recalls new patient “K.E” coming to his office thinking her silicone breast implant had ruptured – when in fact he found a large cloth was in her breast next to the implant. Luckily Dr. Lin was able to remove the cloth and she was able to heal well and keep the breast implant. One of the major risks associated with a less expensive procedure occurring outside the U.S is the quality of care, especially considering the care needed after surgery. Different countries may also carry infectious diseases and exposure to infections without having built up natural immunity can be dangerous, more so for those with weaker immune systems. Additionally, many do not consider the traveling long distances can raise the incidence of complication like blood clots caused by long flights that end up traveling up their lungs and could be potentially fatal.
Now we ask the question again – worth the risk?
Dr. Samuel Lin is an assistant professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School and a plastic surgeon at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. He is also the site director at BIDMC for the Harvard Plastic Surgery Residency Training Program.