The Rise of Medical Tourism

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Doctors and patient (Seattle Municipal Archives/flickr)

This year, hundreds of thousands of Americans will travel abroad, not to see ancient ruins or visit historic sites, but to undergo affordable medical care.

These medical tourists will go to Mexico, Thailand, Costa Rica and elsewhere for everything from root canals to hip replacements. And while this type of tourism has been around for decades, it’s become more and more popular as health-care costs in the U.S. continue to rise. And if Obamacare is overturned by the Supreme Court — more average Americans may soon be medical tourists as well.

Paul Vehorn is a behavioral psychologist, host of the Paul Vehorn radio show, and a medical tourist who’s visited Thailand for two different procedures.

And James Surowiecki is a journalist with the New Yorker. He explores what the bigger economic implications of medical tourism might be in his article entitled “Club Med.”


James Surowiecki and Paul Vehorn

Produced by:

Kristen Meinzer

Comments [11]

Cristiane Roget from Palm Beach, Florida

JD Freedman of Image Smith Productions advised me of this broadcast. He is currently producing a docu for Harvard/Mass General Hospitals highlighting including Organ Transplant, Micro and Tissue Engineering.

As a consultant for, expeditures in Costa Rica I was delighted to see the 'Take Away's' expose on Medical Travel portrayed in a favorable light.

With or without Obamacare, patients have witnessed the USA Medical Industry go the way of Big Pharm. Ballooning costs and robotic service has prompted a paradigm shift among those affluent (and not so affluent) who have turned the tables. Countless North Americans, eschew local treatment while actively seeking alternatives outside their comfort zone.

Costa Rica last year, alone , was on the receiving end of 1.5 million vacationers with an estimated third including a medical procedure in their itinerary. These ‘patients’ underwent procedures that ran the gamut from elective botox injections to full facial rejuvenation, to critical care procedures such as hip and knee replacements. Others abandoned themselves to exclusive wellness retreats and spas.

And while it is still a challenge to disentangle the stat’s from the hype; multiple factors continue to coalesce making Costa Rica an idyllic and fully accountable medical and dental destination.

Costa Rica’s medical professionals consistently meet or exceed the standards set by the Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care (AAAHC), an international body that assures and maintains the highest level of patient confidence.

Confirms Dr. Ivania S. Tinoco of Clinica Dental TS, “In addition to exceeding rigorous accreditation criteria based on AAAHC certification International standards, Costa’s Rica’s private and public medical facilities are on par and in many cases superior to those found in the Northern Hemisphere”.

Oct. 11 2014 10:13 PM

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Nonetheless, I'm definitely happy I found it and I'll
be book-marking and checking back frequently!

Mar. 07 2013 05:02 AM
Matt Kelleher from Thailand

For a comprehensive list of internationally accredited hospitals in Thailand, here is an infographic map, JCI hospitals in Thailand.

In addition to Bumrungrad are Vejthani, BHN, Bangkok Hospital, Sametevej among others.

Apr. 14 2012 11:43 PM
mike kim war vet from NY, NY

Google : team rawan michael kim
Medical Tourism is a visionary postmodern approach to healthcare. When I was a U.S. Army Civil Affairs Operator in Iraq during the end of the Surge, I created the first military medical tourism project in a war zone. Tactical Civil Affairs gave me the flexibility to not operate as a typical soldier. I was able to assist an Iraqi girl, Rawan. Rawan did not have medial care for a severe heart condition. My goal was to assist this child and raise awareness about the medical crisis in Iraq.

Medical tourism was a way to manage the pressing situation. Bottomline, I was able to spearhead a project to assist Rawan by using Narayana Hrudayalaya, a highly advanced medical tourism medical center in India. I bypassed many bureaucratic layers and even gained the direct support of Minnesota First Lady Mary Pawlenty. Rawan was flown to India and treated with great care at the popular medical tourism site.

Why medical tourism in the war zone? Coalition Forces stopped treating civilians for severe medical conditions. Rawan needed care and I was able via medical tourism to send Rawan to receive care for high quality care without the unrealistic medical fees. I was able to raise the money , plan and monitor the military medical tourism project. Also, I got to check out Narayana Hospital. Narayana, what an amazing place!
The rise of medical tourism is real , even in a war zone.

mike kim war vet
father of military medical tourism

Apr. 12 2012 09:18 PM

It is unlikely you will see foreign centers opening up centers in the US. First, there is issues related to expensive malpractice insurance and all of the defensive medicine the US facilities/doctors must do.

Second, assuming they see Medicare and Medicaid patients, hospitals lose money on those patients (about $0.20/dollar) which forces them to recover those losses from private payors and individuals. If they choose not to see Medicare/Medicaid patients, the volumes would be too small to start to build a new facility.

Third, why would a foreign provider see any value in building a US facility? The care is arguably much better at places like Bumrungrad, Severence, Albert Einstein, etc.

Why subject themselves to all of the Accounts Receivable issues, regulations, etc. of the US health system

If you want good care, travel abroad to select facilities!

Apr. 12 2012 05:14 PM
Steve Watkins from Bellingham, WA

Because, Peg, there are no "lower cost options in the US" and there never will be. We have a nurse and physician shortage and no hope on the horizon. They all get paltry 2-3% wage increases each year and almost all clinics and hospitals do everything they know how to crank just as much volume as they can. Even so, we treat patients like chattle here. So once patients fly on Thai, Malaysia, or Singapore Airlines and receive excellent treatment as human beings...not to consider what Surowiecki refers to as "seven star hospitals", we are either reminded or learn for the first time what exceptional care and service really are.

Apr. 12 2012 03:37 PM

Will this "medical tourism game" increase if the Obamacare law is upheld and costs, waiting time and denial of care increases? Will the massive costs of Obamacare to our nation be worsened due to this outsourcing of care abroad?

Why no mention of any of this in the discussion?

Apr. 12 2012 11:52 AM
Eric Marchbein from Pittsburgh PA

During a routine urological exam last year, I was diagnosed with a small hernia. Some 15 years earlier, I had been treated for a hernia and having experienced a great deal of pain from that repair, I began to search for an alternative treatment.
I was alerted to a clinic/ hospital in Toronto which performs hernia repairs exclusively - they did no other treatments or surgeries- and has a reputation for a high rate of success. Moreover, a former patient and fellow Pittsburger with whom I discussed this option told me that typically, patients experienced little pain and discomfort and were able to resume a full range of activities within a few days of treatment.
I inquired at the clic, the Shouldice Clinic of Toronto, who then applied to my insurance company to consider coverage. My insurance company denied coverage but the Shouldice offerred to perform the procedure at my personal expense which includes a 3 day post- op stay for under $6000.
I was a little surprised at the response of my insurance company. At age 66, I've had a small share of minor and major surgical procedures and I suspected that for this particular procedure, it was highly likely that not one line item, which is the way hospitals like to present your bill- surgeon, facilities, anesthesia, etc.- would be less that $6000, much less the entire cost.
What I hadn't considered is that my medical insurance carrier, UPMC, also owns many of the hospitals in my region. While the "insurance" part of the company might stand to save tens of thousands of dollars farming out my procedure to Canada, the "facilities" part would stand to lose the equivalent amount. This blatant conflict of interest was the obvious and only possible explanation for denial of coverage.
Faced with an out-of-pocket cost of $6000 versus a few hundred for copays, I consulted with a surgeon affiliated with my insurance company. At this time, I've elected not to have the surgery.

Apr. 12 2012 10:27 AM
larry epstein from Summit, NJ

I listened with high interest today on this topic. What bothers me greatly is the fact that there was no mention as to the cost to the american taxpayer on the training of these medical professionals who then move to try and profit in lower cost countries.

The federal government is the biggest underwriter of medical education in the US including not just medical schools but hospital residencies and fellowships. This is a major cost driver to the higher health bills we all pay and to be frank most insurers refuse to accept the realities that some of our cost excesses stem from our system of training and management by these trainees of the american public who enter the health care system for care.


Apr. 12 2012 10:16 AM
Phoebe from Brooklyn, NY

When I lived in NM my whole family regularly went to Mexico for all our dental needs. It was significantly cheaper, and there was actually some medical advances that American dentists had not invested in. We found that the care was often better than what I now receive in NY.

Apr. 12 2012 09:56 AM

Rather than resorting to tourism, why not encourage foreign medical centers to compete with "AMERICAN HIGH COST MEDICINE" by opening up lower cost options in the US?

Apr. 12 2012 07:46 AM

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