The term “Health Tourism” may fall short of the actual phenomena that has happened in the health sector in the United States and around the world. The demand for qualified medical services has driven thousands of patients to travel outside the United States seeking better, more affordable options.
In my fifteen years of practice I have personally seen over 10 thousand patients come to Mexico for Weight-loss surgery. In the early ninety’s it was the lack of options for certain weight-loss procedures in the U.S. that drove patients to seek healthcare elsewhere. Gastric Banding was widely available in Mexico and Europe and remained experimental in the U.S. until 2001. We are seeing this again with the new Gastric Plication Surgery still not readily available in the U.S. today. The additional restrictions imposed by the FDA on Body Mass Index (Lower weight patient did not qualify for surgery) as well as extremely challenging insurance coverage policies denying crucial and life saving procedures have helped increased the flow of patients traveling for their care abroad. The recession and economic crisis affecting most American homes and the inaccessible cost of healthcare in the U.S. are the compounding factors that have helped increase health tourism to an all time high. Global healthcare refers to the medical resources available to patients around the world. Physicians cannot see healthcare as an independent entity that ends where the borders begin. We have an obligation to treat patients and follow-them up independently of their nationality, race, beliefs as well as where their treatment originally was started or where their final destination will be. I can only tell you how it saddens me to see patients being refused medical treatment because they opted for a more affordable or more qualified option and traveled outside the U.S. for medical attention. Refusal to treat patients on that basis is not only unethical it is inhumane.
The outlook on healthcare in the U.S. is not a good one. A broken system has been deemed unfixable. A system where the foundation is the insurance carrier who is out to make a profit, not spend it on your health. The more you think about it, the more traveling for healthcare seems a logical and sensible answer to a complex problem. It’s a void that nobody else is willing or able to fill.