Medical tourism, a term created by travel agencies and mass media outlets to describe the process of traveling across international borders to receive health care offers spinal cord injury (SCI) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) patients a global buffet of treatment options, usually at a fraction of the cost of similar treatments in the United States.
Over 50 nations, including Cuba, South Africa, Canada, Panama, China, Korea, Brazil, Mexico, and India, recognize medical tourism as a national industry. In 2007 over 750,000 Americans traveled outside of the U.S. seeking medical procedures in other nations, while the number of American medical tourists will likely number in the millions in 2009.
The reasons behind traveling internationally to receive care are many; however, most medical tourists seek foreign care due to vastly higher costs of care in their home country, restrictive insurance coverage and lack of coverage for certain procedures, and excessively long wait times for local care. These motivators, in addition to improvements in technology, increasing standards of care in many countries, and increasingly cheap and easy travel, make medical tourism appealing to millions of patients each year.
Humans have engaged in medical tourism since the times of ancient Greece, when Greek travelers sought spas and health care in their travels around the Mediterranean. Modern patients seeking international medical care usually engage in the following process. First, a patient seeks a medical tourism provider and provides them with their medical history. Then, a team of health care professionals reviews the case and gives a recommendation for a location, procedure, and a medical visa. Finally, the patient travels to their destination, receives their treatment, and either stays in the country or returns home for recovery.
While medical tourism offers many benefits, including massively cheaper prices for care, a wider range of treatment options, and much faster service, critics raise important concerns about the potential problems involved in medical tourism. Some of the downsides to medical and health tourism include: heightened exposure to exotic and foreign diseases, lower quality of care, travel-related stress for recovering patients, difficulty in filing international malpractice suits, unethical organ harvesting practices, first world preferential treatment and loss of care for local citizens, loss in revenue for first world medical care providers, uncertain and/or lacking regulatory and legal oversight, and widely varying standards of patient safety and care.
A litany of international accreditation and regulatory bodies have cropped up to provide consumers with a sense of safety and security while traveling abroad for medical purposes. The Joint Commission International (JCI), Trent International Accreditation Scheme, the Society for International Health Care Accreditation (SOFIHA), Health Care Tourism International, the International Medical Travel Association, and the Alliance for Patient Safety provide regulatory services for both patients and health care professionals worldwide, to insure patients receive safe, high quality, state-of-the-art patient care when traveling internationally.
These organizations provide assistance to foreign hospitals in raising their levels of care to receive accreditation, as well as assisting patients in connecting with the best possible facilities at the lowest prices available worldwide.
Wooridul Spine Hospital in Seoul, Korea has recently presented itself as one of the most advanced and high quality hospitals in the world. The hospital offers innovative treatments for a range of conditions including advanced spinal surgeries, treatments for metastatic spinal cancers, and other advanced treatment and technology for spinal injuries.
Since many advanced forms of treatment and rehabilitation strategies for TBI and SCI are not covered by domestic insurance plans, medical tourism offers a vast expansion of treatment options for SCI and TBI patients. Medical tourism offers a way around the formerly insurmountable obstacles presented by extremely high treatment costs and restrictive insurance coverage. While medical tourism is not without risk, millions of patients worldwide receive high quality medical care they may not have otherwise been able to afford.
Medical tourism has also had an effect on the development on insurance policy and modernization of medical care around the globe. Many U.S. insurance companies offer international health care options, and hospitals and clinics in prime medical tourist destinations have drastically improved their technology, staff, and facilities to meet the high standards of care first world patients have come to expect.
Links specific to SCI and TBI patients:
A highly qualified Indian Neurosurgeon:
Neurosurgery in Panama:
Neurosurgery in Israel: