Understanding Medical Tourism

Throughout human history, medical tourism has existed. As far back as ancient Greece, medical tourism has been recorded, such as when the Greeks traveled to the Mediterranean to seek help from the healing god, Asklepios.

18th century Europeans traveled to other countries to visit natural spas that treated diseases like gout and bronchitis. Medical tourism is not a new idea, but the reasons for it have changed.

In the past, medical tourism was undertaken to access treatments not available locally. Things like spas were region-specific and dependent on hot springs. Later, medical tourism evolved into something similar to what we have today – poorer people would travel to see the doctor, since the doctor only visited richer areas.

In modern times, people travel for treatment for a variety of reasons. We will explore medical tourism in better detail here.

What is medical tourism

Medical tourism, put simply, is tourism for medical reasons. It entails traveling to another country to receive medical treatment.

Many people undertake medical tourism to receive better treatment. For example, people in developing countries may travel to developed countries to have better care.

Doctors in third world countries may not be as qualified as those from first world countries. However, this is not the only reason. Many people from the UK travel abroad for treatment to avoid long wait times.

People from the United States often travel abroad to receive treatment at a more reasonable cost. For example, in 2010, a liver transplant averaged US$ 300,000 in the United States. However, the same procedure averaged US$91,000 in Taiwan. Thus, many American citizens went for a liver transplant in Taiwan to avoid the expense.


As mentioned before, there are financial advantages to medical tourism. One of the most popular countries to travel out of is the United States.

It is a well-known fact that medical care in the US is expensive. Add to that that most people don’t have dental coverage, or that dental coverage provided by insurance companies is not enough to pay for procedures.

As a result, many Americans take advantage of dental tourism in Costa Rica. Dental procedures are cheaper here because it is cheaper for Costa Ricans to attend good dental schools. Thus, they do not need to charge high prices to recoup the money spent on training.

Some international hospitals offer special medical care, which is considered luxurious. They have hotel room-like wards, offer special services like massages and spas, and one-to-one private nursing. Many people enjoy these luxuries.

It is also nice to take a vacation in a foreign land after surgery. Since you will need additional visits with your healthcare provider, you might as well stay in the beautiful Caribbean a few more weeks.

Employer-sponsored healthcare

Some US employers like Amazon now have joined the trend of sending employees abroad for medical treatment to cut costs on employee medical insurance. They offer many incentives to entice employees to take these packages.

Some incentives include paying for airfare and out-of-pocket expenses for care abroad. Some medical insurance companies have also opened packages entirely for medical tourism. This allows patients to have procedures abroad and be covered for them by medical insurance, as the procedures save the insurance company money as well.

Some workers' unions have taken issue with these situations, as there are many risks and complications. For example, the packages offered can be considered bribery, and there are liabilities associated with air travel and potentially unqualified doctors.

Despite this, many more US citizens are choosing the path of medical tourism, because they are better able to afford it. The travel and treatment costs combined are still lower than the cost of the same procedure in the US.

Filed under: Life

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