Medical Tourism: Pathway to Outsourcing Physician Jobsby JC, MD | April 6, 2008
There is this booming industry in medicine that more and more people are becoming aware of. It’s called Medical Tourism. It doesn’t mean that you go around the world touring medical sites. It’s actually the concept of people traveling to different countries to have medical procedures done. Perhaps they are seeking a special physician that can do a procedure. Perhaps they are seeking a new procedure that is not yet approved in the U.S. Perhaps the procedure they want is less expensive elsewhere. Sometimes it is just that patients want a vacation in combination with their medical procedure so they will go to a resort island to have the procedure done and get their rehabilitation in a relaxing environment.
There is a flip-side of this concept of Medical Tourism. The common perception is of Americans traveling elsewhere for procedures. However, in foreign countries, either foreigners or expatriates may seek care from physicians trained in other countries. For example, many expatriates in China do not trust the medical system there. They want their surgery done by a U.S. or European trained specialist. Thus, the market for Medical Tourism is booming.
There are many ethical dilemmas that may arise from this industry. One is the simple fact that complications may occur and if you have your procedure done in India and then have complications in the U.S. there may be problems dealing with it. Continuity of care is essential for good patient care in the U.S. An obvious issue may be if something happens during the procedure. Perhaps the patient does not receive appropriate pre-operative work-up and then has a sentinel event in the procedure. Malpractice claims are difficult to prosecute across borders and not every country has similar legal systems in place.
One key issue that has yet to come to the forefront is the potential outsourcing of physician jobs to other countries. As the cost of healthcare continues to rise, even some of our citizens cannot afford to pay for procedures and will go elsewhere. Like any industry, we must remain competitive in order to stay in business.
I haven’t met many patients that have actually taken the leap to get their procedures done in other countries. I have met patients who traveled to beach destinations for a mix of relaxation and treatment.
It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. It is just another consequence of the global economy and how medicine will be changing.
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