Guide to understanding different challenges and issues in Medical Tourism

Nothing in this world comes with benefits alone. Even though medical tourism has various benefits that any patient can reap being a medical tourist, there are some other sides of medical tourism, which need to be addressed before taking off to a foreign destination for healthcare services, as well. Medical tourists have to face many problems during the journey.

Certain things might surprise you due to the lone fact that there is no universal standardization in place for medical tourist destinations. This thing results in varying authorization codes and quality measures across the globe that one might like but many might not or vice versa. Therefore, in the lack of effective regulations and standards for the medical tourist destinations across the globe, undertaking a journey to a foreign land for the medical purpose might not only be risky but even dangerous at times.  

The possibility of anything going wrong on a foreign land make these things must read and have considering everyone who is planning to undertake a medical treatment overseas.

Difficulty in accessing correct  knowledge and information

Internet is a tool that featured medical tourism destination as well as famous facilities of the same world over use vitally for advertising, positioning, marketing and promotion of their services. Sometimes, it is used for brazen marketing and promotions without mentioning the possible risks. This also happens in the case of medical tourism and the patient could fall for unsettled marketing without knowing what lies for them ahead.

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Problems with pre and Postoperative care

Another challenge that a medical tourist faces while seeking healthcare abroad is availing good and timely pre and post-operative care. This becomes even more difficult if the patient has traveled long distance to avail the treatment. For patients seeking healthcare abroad, proper pre and post-operative diagnoses are not just necessary but can also save them from unnecessary expenses. 

For example, if a patient is travelling overseas for surgery and his/her blood sugar level is high; a doctor might ask the patient to wait and/or can refuse to perform surgery until the sugar level drops. Therefore, timely pre and post-operative care is necessary and the medical tourists can avoid any discrepancies in the same by developing a good communication strategy. 

Now coming back to the post-operative care, this is also one of the foremost concerns for the medical tourists. Availing the right and timely post-operative care on a medical tourist destination for a long time might be too expensive at times. Even if you avail it for some time abroad, you cannot rule out the possibilities of post-operative complications arising when you are back at your home.

One can have complications like blood clots or pulmonary embolism to name a few, during a long journey back to the homeland. In such a situation, finding the post-operative care on time is challenging. However, one can deal with this problem to some extent by keeping in mind the following:

  • Check in advance whether the post-operative care for the treatment or surgery you seek abroad is available in your country or not and how much it will actually cost. If not, do not consider the option of medical tourism. 
  • In another case, a patient is at a potential risk of health problems like swelling and/or infections by exposing his/her fragile body to exertion too early. Planning everything in consultation with your physician is the key to successful treatment abroad. 

Research for medical facilities

Cultural and language barriers

Language issues and cultural barriers are also among the biggest challenges in the medical tourism sector. If the people of the destination country do not speak or understand the language of the medical tourist, obtaining the accurate information, which is necessary, is difficult. It also lands you in a situation wherein you are not able to ask the relevant questions and the healthcare service provider fails to provide you with the right information.

The chance of a medical tourist facing cross culture misunderstanding is also as high as it gets. To avoid these, a medical tourist should avoid traveling to medical tourist destinations that do not speak and understand his/her language in the first place. 

On the other hand, if you wish, you could hire a translator, but hiring one will mean you spend more. Apart from this, the medical tourism destinations and facilities catering these services should make conscious efforts to include resources required for the purpose and even offer a translator to ensure that the patients get the accurate information. It will help them make an informed decision regarding as sensitive an issue as their health is. 

Moreover, the healthcare service providers should also be well aware of the cultural competency and include these to their treatment policies to avoid any hassles arising due to this. Patients should also know the basics and try understanding the culture of the destination country to make their experiences as medical tourists as pleasing as possible. 

Maintaining quality of healthcare

Every medical tourist does the qualitative analysis before opting for the medical travel and rightly so. This is the prime concern to know if the medical tourism facilities are well up to the international standards or not. Usually, the healthcare facilities under medical tourism industry try attracting medical tourists with the promise of highest level of quality care as demonstrated by international standards. However, there surely remain discrepancies if we compare facilities offered in developed countries to what the developing countries offer. 

One can see the efforts of developing countries to provide high-class facilities and healthcare. Even then, what makes medical tourists from the developed countries skeptical is the implementation of high quality standards when the basic medical infrastructure is missing. 

Another cause of concern for medical tourists is to know if the affiliate centers to the accredited medical facility operate at the same level of quality as is set by the accrediting authorities. Checking it on internet and believing it is difficult and to ensure the same by personally visiting the facilities is not practical. 

Coping with infections in foreign countries 

Another big challenge that medical tourists face at a foreign location is the fact that they are usually exposed to various infections and diseases prevalent in the destination country. The native people usually have natural inborn immunity to these diseases. They are not at high risk of these diseases; however, these diseases might gravely affect new visitors. Knowing and keeping themselves safe from these infections and allergies is a big challenge before and particularly after the treatment or surgery. This is because of the reason that the immune system of a patient after a procedure is not as sound as to protect the body from any viral attack. 

Legal Issues

Legal issues are of greatest concern to patients while they seek healthcare at a medical tourist destination in a foreign country. In case anything goes wrong during a surgery, or for that matter, during a treatment, it puts the patients in a difficult situation. 

The intra country laws and legal procedures pose a big challenge too and hinder medical tourists from getting any legal support whatsoever. Most of the time, lack of recourse makes medical tourists apprehensive about seeking healthcare abroad.

Further, medical tourists from the developed countries find considerable differences when it comes to legal rights in the destination country and what they are accustomed to in their home country. To cope with such a situation becomes difficult for them, particularly when they have valid reasons to sue a doctor or medical facility but they cannot. 

If there are some technical problems, some medical facilities are unavailable for a particular time, doctors are unavailable and many other reasons might cost heavily to medical tourists. They have to wait and that will increase their stay in a foreign land and thereby their expenses. If the medical facility does not compensate for the same and doctor/s refuse to correct any surgical errors initially or delays correcting them intentionally, getting legal aid in a foreign country and getting any error corrected on time becomes difficult for the patients. 

The situation becomes even more gruesome for a patient who has undergone some major surgery. In such a situation, seeking legal aid is really challenging. The course of retribution is of prime concern. Hence, if you have a tendency to opt for legal support in case there are some errors in surgery or treatment, you should avoid opting for the medical tourism. 

Incorrect estimation of costs 

Patients often end up facing trouble due to incorrect estimation of cost involved in medical tourism. Potential medical tourists should get the right information about the total cost involved before seeking healthcare abroad. Before entering into an agreement, potential medical tourists should understand that the overall cost would include the expenses for treatment, travel, accommodation and other hidden hospital treatment expenses. 

Getting the right estimation will help them avoid any unlikely situation arising due to lack of funds on a foreign land. 

Authenticating qualifications of doctor/surgeon 

Another challenge that a medical tourist faces is how to verify if the physicians and surgeons in a medical facility abroad are well qualified and have considerable experience in their respective fields. Rectifying the qualification of doctors is important for better results of any treatment. 

Knowing everything about the doctors and their qualifications is also important due to other reasons. For example, the chances of one doctor being struck out of the medical register in one country but continuing practice in another country cannot be ruled out.  

This is an extremely difficult challenge for patients to find the information about the doctors on a medical tourism facility offshore, particularly when there is no international database available that contains information about doctors, surgeons and other medical practitioners from all over the world.

Insurance coverage

Insurance coverage is essential to face the events of mishaps if anything goes wrong. Insurance is just like a protective cover that will reduce your financial and mental burden. The need of insurance is even higher during treatments, particularly when one seeks treatment in a medical facility abroad.

However, many hospitals in developing countries offering healthcare to medical tourists are not a part of the network of payers of the developed markets. This results in lack of opportunity for many medical tourism facilities to work directly with the insurance companies and other healthcare funding providers in the market. This comes out to be a big impediment in the overall growth of the medical tourism. 

Some Insurance companies now have started medical tourism insurance and many have planning for it. Because of this insurance company can save money and patient has to pay minimum perineum charges for medical tourism insurance

Ethical issues

The concept of medical tourism also revolves around many controversial ethical and moral issues. Seeking legal protection in such a situation is difficult, time consuming and expensive in a foreign country. It becomes practically impossible for a medical tourist to come out of this difficult situation. 

Further, there might be issues like some medical tourist seeking an organ transplant at a foreign location for reasons like the facility is not available in his/her home country or there are long waiting times that might affect his health adversely. In such a case, the patient is left with no other option but to choose a medical tourist destination for organ transplant. 

On the other hand, there is no way a patient could know who she/he is receiving the organ from since no such database is available. This makes things more suspicious. There are strict rules and regulation for organ transplant without the consent of patient and relatives it’s not possible.Most of the patients do is pay for the treatment without caring where it came from. Therefore, one cannot rule out the chances of malpractices and frauds in the medical sector. 

Brain Drain

Since highly skilled doctors and caretakers are in good demand globally and such talented pool is not that easily available, there are great efforts required for their retention. If there is lack of incentives and opportunities in the home country, brain drain might happen.

Lack of advanced Infrastructure

In several developing countries, poor infrastructure to support medical services gets them lose their share of medical tourism. Poorly maintained hospitals, interrupted water and power supply, unhygienic conditions, etc. can make patients stay away from visiting such locations for treatment.

Lack of Transparency

When patients do not get proper healthcare information, they go confused. This might happen when medical facilities or medical tourism service providers do not display all relevant information for patients in a transparent manner.

The top burning issues in medical tourism

However, the medical tourism industry has made great strides of late, but the fact remains that it has to contend with few issues that can hamper its growth. It is high time that stakeholders and governments of the destination nations join forces to anticipate and weed out these challenges systematically. Buying time here means they have to deal with issues that have grown out of proportions in the meantime.

To gain an insight into the issues threatening the global medical tourism industry, go on reading the article and get enlightened.

Securing proactive role of conventional tour operators

Opportunities for cashing on the medical tourism boom are abound for tourism operators and travel agents. The conventional tourism operators and travel agents world over, however, are maintaining a distance from medical and wellness tourism. They perceive it as a niche sector of the tourism industry that requires considerable specialization on their part to make sizeable profits. This misconception needs to be changed altogether if medical tourism has to flourish in near future, as tour operators can play a decisive role in promoting medical tourism.

To ensure proactive involvement of the tour operators, the stakeholders need to ensure that the operators are made adapt with “softer areas” of medical travel and then eventually graduate them into the areas that require specialization. Wellness tourism is the best option to start with, as it does not involve the risks of surgical interventions that are regular fixture in hardcore medical tourism.

Determine from where the growth in coming

We have got used to attaching prefixes like “exponential” or “phenomenal” to the growth rate in medical tourism industry. These prefixes may be apt for describing the growth rate in few destinations. But when it comes to other destinations, these prefixes are seemingly out of place and inappropriate. Many entrants, both destinations and providers, joined the medical tourism bandwagon just to find out the other side of the growth story. A handful of these newbie succeeded but a considerable number of them could not survive the dynamics of the industry and intense competition and hence abandoned their plans midway.

Destinations offering high value services including the US, Australia, Germany and the UK, fared better as compared to others. However, the growth and development of proper healthcare in their traditional source markets can deter their growth. Creating a sustainable international patient practice is the need of the hour.

Defining standard measures and indicators

In lack of credible independent research regarding what buyers aspire, it is hard to determine their preferences and work on them. This is ailing the medical tourism industry and can lead to its stagnation in the times to come. The language and vocabulary of the medical tourism sector is inadequate and confusing. In absence of a proper nomenclature, some call it medical travel and medical tourism while the others refer to it as health tourism. Though technically different, most consider wellness tourism as an integral part of medical tourism. The industry is yet to differentiate between cross border healthcare and medical tourism. Forget about counting the number of tourists who wish to avail or need medical care while on their personal and business visits, we do not have a term to define them.

In medical tourism, disparities prevail, as unlike other sectors, it lacks standard measures and indicators. In the UK, they consider a visitor an international patient only if lands there with a specific intention of availing medical care. In case of Thailand, a foreign patient pays a single visit to a hospital department; he or she will be counted as one medical tourist, which implies that an individual undergoing treatment may be counted many times over in the final figures.

Dr Prem Jagyasi and Team (C)

Dr Prem is an award winning strategic leader, renowned author, publisher and highly acclaimed global speaker. Aside from publishing a bevy of life improvement guides, Dr Prem runs a network of 50 niche websites that attracts millions of readers across the globe. Thus far, Dr Prem has traveled to more than 40 countries, addressed numerous international conferences and offered his expert training and consultancy services to more than 150 international organizations. He also owns and leads a web services and technology business, supervised and managed by his eminent team. Dr Prem further takes great delight in travel photography.

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