A brief primer on medical travel


What is medical travel?

It’s going outside your local area for medical care. For many Americans, that means seeing a specialist in another city. But increasingly, it means traveling to another country for treatment.

Why would anyone go abroad for medical care?

People in developing nations are most likely to leave home for better quality or faster treatment. Most Americans, in contrast, are going abroad for bargain prices.

How much can I save?

It depends on where you go. But most patients can save at least half of what they’d spend on an identical procedure in the U.S.


What kinds of procedures do most patients seek?

Medical travelers from the U.S. typically go for cosmetic surgery, dentistry and elective orthopedic procedures such as knee, back and hip surgeries. Obesity surgery is growing in popularity. So is cardiac care.

Will my insurance pay?

Maybe. At present, most Americans traveling offshore for medical care are uninsured or underinsured. But U.S. employers and insurers increasingly are adding overseas providers to their networks to cut costs. Some insurers will approve a covered procedure at an offshore hospital just as they would for any other out-of-network provider. It pays to call and check.

How can I find a good doctor and hospital overseas?

Do your homework. Books, magazines and websites abound (see accompanying resource list). Many patients choose to work with a trustworthy medical travel company that has pre-screened doctors and hospitals. Insist on patient references and doctor bios. Look for hospitals with solid accreditations.

Can I sue if something goes wrong?

Yes, but not in a U.S. court. You would have to file suit in the country where you were treated. Malpractice awards abroad are typically much smaller than those in the United States.

-- Marla Dickerson