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Affordable Health Care: Is Medical Tourism the Solution?

By Stephanie Guler - Senior Content & Social Media Developer | December 12th, 2011

The cost of health care in the United States has skyrocketed far above other countries around the world, with procedures costing patients at least 60 percent more than Europe.

Besides this well-known fact, obesity rates are steadily climbing, and obesity-related health conditions like diabetes, heart disease and orthopedic care are difficult and expensive for patients to maintain, even with health insurance.

For these reasons, patients have been forced to seek out other options in order to receive the care that they need, at a reasonable price.

This is where the industry of medical tourism comes into play as a low-cost, high-quality option. Patients travel overseas for a variety of medical procedures, but end up saving money in the end, even after the cost of flights and other travel expenses are factored in.

While the idea of medical tourism might seem like the ideal solution for the high cost of health care, is it actually worth it?

According to Josef Woodman, author of the book Patients Beyond Borders, medical tourism can benefit people in certain scenarios, which is why it’s important for patients to know when to travel, and when to stay home for medical treatment.

He wrote, “A good monetary barometer of whether your medical trip is financially worthwhile is….if your total quote for treatment in the U.S, is $6,000 or more (including consultations, procedure, hospital stay and follow-up), you’ll probably save money by traveling abroad.”

Mexico, Panama, Cyprus, India, Malaysia, Thailand, and Turkey are just a few popular medical tourism destinations abroad that offer world-class health care at a discounted rate.

But which procedures are worth crossing borders for?

Overseas, major operations like heart and orthopedic surgeries are where patients can find the best deals and care, when compared to health care at home.

Valve replacement surgery for example, costs only about $8,500 in India, which saves American patients about $65,000 in procedure costs alone. Another good deal to be had is with knee replacement orthopedic surgery. This procedure is estimated to cost about $30,000 in the United States, but in countries like Mexico, the entire trip (including airfare, accommodations and medical expenses) costs only $6,000.

This may seem too good to be true, but affordable prices are entirely possible due to an overall lower cost of living in medical tourism destinations. Doctors and surgeons also command much lower salaries, but never seem to skimp on medical expertise and superior patient care.

Both heart and orthopedic surgery are serious operations to undergo, so cost isn’t the only factor that pushes patients to travel abroad for medical care. Waiting times are also significantly reduced, which means patients are able to have their surgery and pay for it without wasting a single moment thinking, “How am I going to afford this?”

Sandra Giustina, is an uninsured 61-year-old American woman and a true medical tourism success story. After a heart problem left her with no choice but to undergo surgery for atrial fibrillation, Giustina was put into a life or death situation that she simply couldn’t meet the expense of.

In a CNN article she recalled, “I was a walking time bomb. I knew I had to get on that plane if I wanted to be around to see my grandkids. They [U.S. hospitals} told me it would be about $175,000, and there was just no way I could come up with that.”

According to the story, Giustina saved up for three years to no avail. Desperate for a second chance at life, she decided to give medical tourism a shot. In the month following her life-changing decision, Giustina was undergoing heart surgery in New Delhi, India, and paid just “under $10,000 total, including travel,” and didn’t regret a single moment of her experience.

The Patients Beyond Borders website shows the top ten medical tourism destinations and the average cost savings patients can receive on a variety of procedures:

Brazil: 25 to 40 percent
Costa Rica: 40 to 65 percent
India: 65 to 90 percent
South Korea: 30 to 45 percent
Malaysia: 65 to 80 percent
Mexico: 40 to 65 percent
Singapore: 30 to 45 percent
Taiwan: 40 to 55 percent
Thailand: 50 to 70 percent
Turkey: 50 to 65 percent

With such incredible savings for a superior level of medical care, it’s quite clear why medical tourism has quickly grown and developed into a very successful $40 billion a year business.

Along with heart and orthopedic care, the world of medical tourism is also popular with elective procedures that aren’t often covered by insurance companies.

Elective cosmetic procedures are one major part of the medical tourism industry, and include specialties like cosmetic dentistry and plastic surgery.

Breathtaking vacation destinations offer patients the star treatment while undergoing affordable procedures like facelift, breast augmentation and liposuction; plastic surgery in Mexico and Panama are especially popular among patients hailing from North America.

For that perfect million-dollar smile, medical tourists visit top dentists in Mexico and Turkey for dental procedures that cost at least 50 percent less than the United States.

Infertility tourism is another important sector within the medical tourism industry. Hopeful parents-to-be are offered the chance to conceive a child with advanced, yet reasonably priced treatments like in-vitro fertilization (IVF) and pre-implantation diagnosis (PGD) in the most romantic vacation settings on the planet. Thousands of patients choose to undergo IVF in Cyprus and Mexico, not only to save money, but also to escape from the daily grind, and just focus on relaxing and getting pregnant.

While patients can certainly save a lot with medical tourism, careful preparation must be done beforehand, in order to ensure the highest level of safety and comfort throughout your trip.

Woodman told the New York Times, “Traveling for surgery is a big deal,” and this couldn’t be more of a true statement.

Before embarking on the medical vacation of a lifetime, patients should always consider their health first. Experts suggest finding the answers to these questions with the help of a doctor before traveling for health care overseas: Am I healthy enough to travel long distances? Do I have an increased risk for developing blood clots? Am I healthy enough to recover from surgery without any risk for major complications?

Patients should also learn every aspect of procedure they desire to undergo from start to finish to ensure travel is a realistic decision for the particular treatment.

Woodman said, “Orthopedic and non-emergency heart procedures have some of the highest success rates. But with something like cancer, you need the ongoing relationship with your oncologist and health care team.”

It is also vital for patients’ health and safety to do extensive research on the location, medical facilities, and doctors that will be treating you. Medical tourism agencies like can help patients with every detail of the trip. These companies will check hospital accreditation, doctor credentials, and can also organize everything from flights to follow-up care, so your experience goes smoothly and safely.

With medical tourism, it is possible to receive surgery at low-priced, foreign facilities with world-class safety and quality standards, but to get the most worth out of your experience, just remember one thing: research, research, research.

To learn more about medical tourism treatment options and destinations, contact

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This article was written by the medical research team at does not intend for any of the information on this site to be regarded as medical advice - it is meant as a starting point for understanding treatment details and options before contacting a registered, licensed doctor. We advise all patients to seek medical advice from a doctor.
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