Domestic costs of overseas medical care is a concern

First World governments and academics are beginning to look at the domestic cost of medical tourism.

The National Health Service in the United Kingdom estimates that botched medical procedures overseas cost it every year about 8 million pounds, about $12.6 million, according to a recent University of York study.

Neil Lunt, the editor of a new handbook on the topic, said “If someone decides to go oversees for cosmetic work, that’s an individual thing they do.  But if when they come back there’s work that needs to be done, that typically gets picked up by the NHS,” meaning the British national health system.

There have been a few reports from the United States from individuals who said they received bad treatment in Costa Rica. These individuals have had to pay themselves to fix what they considered the flaws.

Globally five million people will seek medical treatment abroad, the University of York estimated.

The university is where academics put together the handbook that looks at the implications for patients and health systems around the world.

Patients who travel abroad for medical treatment risk and return with complications or infections that require costly treatment is one of the issues highlighted in the new handbook, said the university.

This growth in medical tourism has been boosted by cheaper air travel and by the Internet, which allows medical providers from one country to market themselves to patients in another, the handbook authors said, according to the university.

In the United States more and more medical insurance firms are encouraging overseas travel to save money. Canada has a national medical program, too, but citizens from there go overseas or to the United States to avoid long waits. Costa Ricans go overseas sometimes, too, for complex medical treatment, mainly in the United States. México has had centers for years to cater to U.S. citizens in search of alternative treatments.

A proposal in the Costa Rica legislature is designed to formalize the medical tourism industry here and to promote it outside the country. However, there is no provision in the bill to protect foreigners who may receive substandard treatment.

Many who come are unaware that the Costa Rican legal framework probably will not provide compensation for malpractice or less than standard treatment.

Researchers from York University’s Department of Social Policy and Social Work and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine brought together the global community of researchers and writers to produce the “Handbook on Medical Tourism and Patient Mobility.” It is published by Edward Elgar.

The university said that the handbook explores topics such as risk, law and ethics, patient experience and treatment outcomes for cosmetic, transplantation, dental, fertility and weight loss surgeries.

Lunt said that the topic of medical tourism was one of growing academic interest. An aspect of the proposal in the Costa Rican legislature is a system to obtain statistics on foreign medical tourists. That is something that is not available now because no one keeps track of who is just a tourist and who is coming to Costa Rica for medical treatment.

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