Guide to understanding legal issues in medical tourism

The medical tourism industry is flourishing day by day and more patients are travelling to other countries to obtain affordable and high quality medical treatment. Before you board on your medical journey, you should consider the legal issues associated to this sector. It is important to understand the laws of your medical destination or country you plan to visit.

No one wants to face any type of legal problems while in a foreign country, especially medical tourists. It is the duty of medical facility provider and the medical tourist facility, to explain all the relevant legal matters to a patient in his understandable language.

  • It is vital for a medical tourist to be aware of the recognized rules of the medical tourism destinations. If you are going abroad to seek for medical care, you should make yourself aware with the recognized laws related to medical practices in a particular company.
  • The country in which you will be receiving medical care should have properly established laws governing medical tourism along with the legal body to enforce the law. These laws must be in the favor of medical tourism.
  • It is important to consider the legal resource and the rights of the medical tourists in that country. Most medical facilities catering to the medical tourists have international accreditations with esteemed organizations, thereby promising high level of quality in the healthcare services.
  • Healthcare professionals are becoming more aware of the importance of acknowledge a dynamic role for the patient. Public authorities need to identify the role of a patient and encourage their contribution in decision-making process.
  • You should find out the level of legal recourse available to you in case of any problem arises during your treatment in foreign hospitals that are preferred by medical tourists. It is also vital to find out whether the legal body of your own country can take lawful action against the medical treatment provider of the destination country.
  • Language is the main problem that arises in a foreign land and can bound the process of communication or can create problems in understanding the laws of the country. Therefore, it is important to hire a translator or you, who can help you to overcome all the barriers related to language.

Know and speak up for your patient rights as a medical tourist

Patient Rights

quality of the healthcare facility

Patients, including medical tourists, have certain rights when they are in the confines of the hospital. These rights highlight the need to evaluate the quality of healthcare facility and its essence and hence, both the patient and the healthcare provider should exercise these rights to ensure quality treatment and care.

You should check that the hospital should provide you with a document carrying the patient rights. You may even ask hospital authorities to paste the same document on the hospital walls.

Guidelines of patient rights as described by the American Medical Association

  • The right to receive information from physicians and doctors, and the right to discuss the benefits, risks and costs of the appropriate treatment alternatives
  • The right to make decisions regarding the treatment options that the physician is recommending
  • The right to courtesy, respect, dignity, responsiveness and timely attention of all healthcare needs
  • The right to confidentiality
  • The right to receive continuity of care
  • The right to receive complete information regarding the cost of the entire treatment, without any hidden costs

Speaking Up


One of the biggest misconceptions that almost all patients have is that they believe that within the confines of the healthcare facility, their opinion does not count and they are completely in the control of the healthcare professionals in charge. However, the fact here is that the more you speak up with the healthcare professionals during consultation, the better it will be during the course of the treatment.

You should always remain honest during every interaction with the healthcare provider, which includes the doctors, nurses and lab technicians. The more you speak about your current condition, the better care will you be receiving. In addition to being honest, you should always try to clear your doubts regarding anything. Moreover, as physicians often use medical terms, which not many patients can understand, you have the right to ask questions until the time you are completely satisfied with the response.

Furthermore, the patient should also be in a position to speak his/her mind, during patient satisfaction surveys and customer feedback forms. You should try to find out ways by which your response and feedback can be utilized to improve facilities for all future patients. All reputed healthcare facilities should provide patients with some survey or feedback forms, where patients can document their stay at the hospital. It is your responsibility to fill out all details honestly. Try to ascertain that the hospital staff and management take notes of these surveys and forms, and are always open to make changes in their system for the benefit of all patients.

The patient’s safety and the challenges of seeking care in another country are significant and require careful consideration. Although some medical tourism firms suggest relaxing destinations and amenities, high quality care and patient safety must always be top priorities. It is important to remember that despite medical breakthroughs and an ever-expanding knowledge base, providing safe, high quality care is a challenge for each and every health care organization around the world.

The measurement of customer satisfaction has become very important for the health care sector also. The concept of customer satisfaction has encouraged the adoption of a marketing culture in the health care sector in both developed and developing countries. As large numbers of hospitals are opening their doors, and people are becoming more aware and conscious of health, great competition has emerged in this industry.

Legal issues to consider when travelling overseas for medical tourism

While it is wise to know of your rights as a medical tourist, but when it boils down to legal recourse, it is likely to through up many challenges.  There are many things to consider before you embark on your medical journey like other important factors, which also include legal issues. As a medical tourist, you will not want to face any legal problems. Hence, it becomes even more essential for you to understand the rights of the residential of your destination country. Additionally, it is the responsibility of treating facility overseas and the medical tourism facility, if you have  medical tourism companion, to explain all the related legal matters to a patient in a language the patient can understand.

  • It is essential for a medical tourist to be conscious of the acknowledged rules of the destination country. As you are going abroad for medical treatment, you should make yourself familiar with the recognized laws related to medical practices in the particular area or country.
  • There are many cases where patients have died or suffered serious health issues due to the avoidable medical errors. As a potential medical tourist, you should know your rights to seek legal recourse in a foreign land.
  • Safety, security and protection of the patients should be the main aim of the treating facility and you should opt for those hospitals, which provide full protection to their patients, especially international patients. These days, healthcare experts are becoming even more conscious of the importance of acknowledging a dynamic role for the patient.
  • The medical tourism destination should have properly established laws governing medical tourisms along with a legal body to implement the laws. These rules and regulations must be in favor of the protection of the patients, especially international patients and a proper tax system.
  • You must ensure that you have all required terms and conditions in writing in order to avoid any complications later. In case of having doubts regarding the conditions, it is best to consult all the things with a specialist medical lawyer.

What medical tourists need to know about legal recourse

visiting physician

The idea of legal recourse is something all medical tourists need to consider before travelling. Most medical facilities catering to foreign patients have international accreditations and affiliations with esteemed centres establishing a high level of quality. However, physicians are still likely to make errors, in which case a patient should be able to receive retribution in the form of medical malpractice. The US is a very litigious society, which is one of the reasons why they have an extremely high cost of healthcare and stringent malpractice laws. You won’t find too many doctors who haven’t faced at least one malpractice suit in their career span. However, other countries around the world do not necessarily have established malpractice laws.

You need to find out the level of legal recourse available to you in the event that a complication should occur. You also need to ascertain whether the legal body of your home country can take lawful action against the provider of another country. Clear all your doubts regarding who will be liable or held responsible in case of any mishaps—the doctor or the medical staff. Nowadays, some clinics have started including jurisdiction clauses in their agreement to protect themselves from being sued by foreign patients or their home country. In that case you should know what your rights are and inquire about the possibility of receiving a refund in case you need to cancel the surgery or the doctor decides not to perform the procedure.

Protecting yourself from legal issues during medical tourism

medical cost

Prior to agreeing to any consent forms provided by the treating facility, ensure that all the terms and conditions are provided to you in writing. If you have any doubt regarding the conditions, it is better to consult a specialist medical lawyer and in the event that you are not in agreement with the prescribed terms and conditions, do not sign the agreement. If you have selected a package deal through a facilitator, make sure to protect yourself by guaranteeing that the medical cost includes covering any expenses for medical complications that might arise—this should be reflected in a consent form provided by the hospital. Ask about your rights regarding legal actions and make sure to check and read the agreement carefully before signing.

Questions about legal issues a medical tourist should ask

  • I have a medical insurance policy issued in my country. Will it cover the procedure performed in a foreign country? Does it also cover any complications arising out of the treatment?
  • Does the medical expense paid as part of medical tourism affect the tax payment?
  • As a medical tourist, who do I approach in case of malpractice or negligence of care?

Tips medical tourists should know about legal issues

signing the agreement

Before signing the agreement, you should follow certain steps to ensure the quality of service available, such as:

  • Enquiring about the qualification of the doctor/ surgeon you are consulting and their experience
  • Terms and conditions of the medical insurance and the limits to the policy
  • What international standards does the medical facility meet
  • Asking to review any available records or reports of pending lawsuits against the medical staff
  • The liability that the medical staff will assume in case of malpractice or errors
  • The average payout as a compensation in case of any error

It might be beneficial to search for a legal representative from the host country as the procedures may well be significantly different to what you are familiar with in your home country. Language barriers may also limit the communication. These factors can turn out to be a potential problem during any compensation procedure.

Websites such as IBMS (International Board of Medicine and Surgery) and Joint Commission International can give you an idea about well-regarded doctors and accredited medical facilities. At IBMS, you can enquire about certified physicians, surgeons and other health care experts. This organization claims to validate membership with proper documentation of license, speciality certification and hospital affiliation for all doctors around the world. This organization along with Joint Commission International and other accrediting institutions provides you, the medical tourist with access to crucial information related to medical professionals and facilities around the world, which will help you in your decisions regarding treatment overseas.

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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