Is Medical Tourism Safe?
You may have heard stories on the six o’clock news of offshore surgeries gone bad
or patients returning to the U.S. with medical complications that their local doctors
refused treat. While some of these stories may be true, it is important to point
out that thousands of patients are traveling safely within and outside the U.S.
for medical care and the vast majority are having very positive experiences and
excellent procedure outcomes.
Can something go wrong? Yes. Even if every precaution is taken, medical complications
can occur in New York as well as in New Deli. You lower your risks – regardless
of your location – by gathering sound information and following your doctor’s recommendations.
If you take time to research your options and communicate with providers and physicians,
you are much more likely to enjoy a positive outcome as well as a pleasant medical
Consider the following questions when doing your research:
Does the hospital specialize in the procedure or does it boast a Center of excellence?
There is no substitute for experience. This translates into lower mortality rates
and complications, which means a greater chance for your procedure to be a success!
It’s also no secret that top hospitals attract top physicians – another compelling
reason to choose a great hospital.
Consider a Medical Provider’s Accreditations and Affiliations.
In the past, the Joint Commission and, to a lesser degree, the Healthcare Facilities
Accreditation Program (HFAP), were the primary accreditation programs authorized
by the Department of Health & Human Services’ Centers for Medicare and Medicaid
Services (CMS) to survey hospitals on CMS Conditions of Participation. Then, in
October 2008, the CMS granted deeming authority to Det Norske Veritas Healthcare,
Inc. (DNV), also known as the National Integrated Accreditation for Healthcare Organizations
(NIAHO), making it the third CMS-approved accrediting program in the United States.
Although accreditation does not guarantee a perfect medical experience, it does
signal that a particular hospital or clinic has invested significant time and resources
in perfecting quality of care processes and patient safety protocols that over time
will promote successful surgical outcomes. For patients it is an assurance that
high standards of safety and quality of care are in place, and that the medical
provider cares about delivering quality services to its customers.
It is also wise to look for hospitals that are affiliated to recognized national
or international healthcare organizations. Although, again, this is no guarantee
that something can’t go wrong, it does show that a particular hospital has met high
quality standards in order to be associated to an outside credible source.
Is the surgeon properly licensed?
Although the likelihood of your doctor being a quack is slim if you are dealing
with a well-known medical institution, it is still prudent to verify your doctor’s
credentials before traveling anywhere for surgery – especially if you are considering
a smaller clinic or overseas hospital. Not only do you want to be certain that a
particular doctor is really a doctor, but you also want to make sure he or she has
the necessary background, skills and experience to successfully treat your condition.
The American Board of Medical Specialties (https://www.certificationmatters.org/is-your-doctorboard-
certified/search-now.aspx) is a good resource to check board certification status
for U.S. physicians.
Is the destination safe?
Regardless of the quality of care available, there are certain destinations that
are inherently less safe than others due to political turmoil, crime, terrorism
or deficient sanitary conditions. Always educate yourself about the destinations
you will be traveling to, and exercise precaution when venturing into areas that
seem unsafe, particularly at night. If you are traveling abroad, check with the
U.S. State Department and Center for Disease Control for current conditions at your
Are you allowing enough time for your recuperation before traveling home?
Regardless of the procedure or treatment you have undergone, it is always advisable
that you wait a few days before traveling. Doing so will minimize your risk of medical
complications and improve the healing process. This will also give your doctor time
to spot any potential problems before you head home.
It is not uncommon for patients to feel fine a few days after a procedure, but don’t
think this means you are well enough to hop on a plane. Travel puts a lot of stress
on your body; early morning wake-up calls, crowded airport shuttles, long waiting
times at the airport, and then the long flight home cramped up in a narrow cylinder
packed with people. You can minimize the discomfort flying in business class or
choosing bulkhead seats, but regardless of this, your body pays every time you travel.
Getting sufficient rest is particularly important if you are flying long distances
where there is a risk of developing a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism.
DVT may be defined as a blood clot that forms in a vein deep in the body. If the
blood clot breaks off and travels through the blood stream to the lungs, a pulmonary
embolism may occur which is potentially fatal. Although rare, there are effective
measures that traveling patients can use to reduce the risk of DVT. The Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends:
- Getting up and walking around every 2 to 3 hours
- Exercise your legs while you’re sitting
- Drink plenty of water, and avoid drinking anything with alcohol or caffeine in it
Your doctor may also prescribe anti-clotting medication and/or compression stockings
to reduce the risk of DVT.
Waiting a few days before traveling also allows you to enjoy the local culture and
attractions. Perhaps not jet skiing or scuba diving, but you can visit the theater,
try the local cuisine, or engage in a few “soft” tours that will enhance your overall
medical tourism experience.
Finally, make sure to talk to your doctor before traveling for any medical treatment
in order to understand the potential risks of combining surgery with travel.