Original Research

Journal of General Internal Medicine

, Volume 26, Issue 5, pp 492-497

Medical Tourism Services Available to Residents of the United States

  • Brandon W. AllemanAffiliated withUniversity of Iowa Carver College of MedicineUniversity of Iowa Carver College of Medicine Email author 
  • , Tana LugerAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Iowa
  • , Heather Schacht ReisingerAffiliated withIowa City Veterans Administration Medical CenterDivision of General Internal Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine
  • , Rene MartinAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of IowaIowa City Veterans Administration Medical Center
  • , Michael D. HorowitzAffiliated withMedical Insights International
  • , Peter CramAffiliated withIowa City Veterans Administration Medical CenterDivision of General Internal Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access

ABSTRACT

BACKGROUND

There are growing reports of United States (US) residents traveling overseas for medical care, but empirical data about medical tourism are limited.

OBJECTIVE

To characterize the businesses and business practices of entities promoting medical tourism and the types and costs of procedures being offered.

DESIGN, PARTICIPANTS, AND OUTCOMES

Between June and August 2008, we conducted a telephone survey of all businesses engaged in facilitating overseas medical travel for US residents. We collected information from each company including: the number of employees; number of patients referred overseas; medical records security processes; destinations to which patients were referred; treatments offered; treatment costs; and whether patient outcomes were collected.

RESULTS

We identified 63 medical tourism companies and 45 completed our survey (71%). Companies had a mean of 9.8 employees and had referred an average of 285 patients overseas (a total of approximately 13,500 patients). 35 (79%) companies reported requiring accreditation of foreign providers, 22 (50%) collected patient outcome data, but only 17 (39%) described formal medical records security policies. The most common destinations were India (23 companies, 55%), Costa Rica (14, 33%), and Thailand (12, 29%). The most common types of care included orthopedics (32 companies, 73%), cardiac care (23, 52%), and cosmetic surgery (29, 66%). 20 companies (44%) offered treatments not approved for use in the US – most commonly stem cell therapy. Average costs for common procedures, CABG ($18,600) and knee arthroplasty ($10,800), were similar to previous reports.

CONCLUSIONS

The number of Americans traveling overseas for medical care with assistance from medical tourism companies is relatively small. Attention to medical records security and patient outcomes is variable and cost-savings are dependent on US prices. That said, overseas medical care can be a reasonable alternative for price sensitive patients in need of relatively common, elective medical procedures.

KEY WORDS

medical tourism uninsured travel elective surgery