The global medical tourism industry is booming thanks to lower costs and shorter waiting lists. Here’s what you need to know about the benefits and risks of seeking medical treatment abroad.
While traveling abroad for treatment may not seem like the obvious choice for many of us, the worldwide medical tourism industry is thriving. ‘Medical tourism’ is the term used to describe the practice of travelling abroad specifically for treatment, which is exactly what an increasing number of Britons are doing. The most common reason for patients from the UK to travel abroad is to seek orthopedic, cosmetic and dental procedures not fully covered by the NHS or private health insurance.
For treatments not available on the NHS, travelling overseas can be a clever way of accessing care for a fraction of the cost. Paying for treatment abroad can mean almost immediate medical attention instead of being on a waiting list for months in the UK. Many people who travel overseas for treatment also take it as an opportunity for a holiday before the procedure is carried out.
However, before you even think about booking your flights, research is vital in order to minimise any risks or complications that may be involved with the treatment. Dr Hilary also recommends discussing any plans for medical treatment abroad with your GP.
*SOURCE: Patients Without Borders. Destinations listed in alphabetical order.
RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH
- Don’t make any snap decisions without considering the long-term health implications—even if you’ve found a deal that promises excellent treatment for a small cost. Have you checked out the qualifications of the surgeon and medical team that will be carrying out the procedure? Have you considered whether aftercare in the UK will be provided as part of the package? These are important considerations, so it’s vital to do your research.
- Don’t agree to any kind of treatment before having a proper consultation with the medical professional who will be performing the procedure.
- Aftercare is important. Think about what care you will need both immediately after the procedure and once you have returned to the UK. For example, will you need someone to accompany you abroad to help you while you recover? Also consider whether you would be able to receive follow-up treatment in the UK should any complications arise.
- Most travel insurance policies won’t cover you for elective treatment abroad, so it’s important to check with your insurer to see how your cover will be affected.
- Find out whether the people treating you can speak English. If not, find out whether an interpreter will be provided at all times.
- Ask if you can talk to any former patients so you have a better idea of what to expect.
Find out the professional regulatory body in the country where you’re heading, and where you can register a complaint if something goes wrong. Health Regulation Worldwide (http://www.healthregulation.org) is a good source of information on health regulators and professional bodies in other countries. In addition, many UK organisations (such as the United Kingdom Accreditation Forum) exist to share good practice and ideas about improving healthcare quality.
COSMETIC SURGERY ABROAD
While there are good plastic surgeons all over the world, the British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons (BAPRAS) warns that regulatory standards and guidelines are not always as tightly controlled abroad as they are in the UK. BAPRAS also recommends that any patient considering cosmetic surgery should have a full understanding of the procedure and realistic expectations of the outcome.
Anthony Armstrong, a consultant plastic surgeon and chair of BAPRAS’s clinical effectiveness committee, advises patients to have at least two consultations with their surgeon prior to the procedure. ‘Sometimes there’s a meet-and-greet evening in London with sales people rather than the surgeon. People will part with money and go to a hospital they’ve never seen and a surgeon they’ve never met without any real understanding of what that surgeon can provide,’ says Armstrong.