Medical tourism: A growing fad for healthcare

By: Madison Weil

Posted: Nov 12, 2018 11:46 PM PST

Updated: Nov 13, 2018 11:28 AM PST

Medical tourism is the practice of moving a patient to a hospital or clinic in another country. It is typically done when the transfer facility is better equipped to handle the care of the patient.

According to Dr. David Hayes, the medical director for the Mayo Clinic Network here in the U.S., it’s actually fairly common.

“People from different countries, including the U.S., might go to another facility in another country with some package agreement on how much it’s going to cost for a hip replacement or a knee replacement. So they go there, have the procedure and often recuperate in a facility close by. Now, U.S. institutes are interested in doing the same thing,” Hayes said.

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Domestic medical tourism is also becoming more routine as well as more popular as an optional benefit on some healthcare plans. Sites like focusonhospitals.com, a hospital search engine, can help with price comparisons on certain procedures, but each case is different.

At the Mayo Clinic, seven of the hospitals in its care network are outside the United States. The organization is working to reduce medical patient tourism by creating a web of specialists that can share information and communicate more effectively. 

Since establishing its network of e-consults, Mayo has significantly reduced patient referrals.

“So, that’s less expensive for the patient. It’s more convenient for the patient. It’s better for health care in general because you don’t have those other costs,” Hayes said.

Dr. Karthik Ghosh, director of the Mayo Clinic Breast Diagnostic Clinic added, “It’s also about making sure the patient gets their care where they are most comfortable. Nothing like getting your treatment closer to home, not having to travel, but you get the best expertise.”

Some health insurance companies use medical tourism to save an estimated 20-to-40-percent of medical treatment costs. Some insurance companies even extend their coverage to international medical treatment. An insurance agent or benefits specialist can determine if your insurance plan covers distant treatment.

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