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4 Things to Know Before Thinking About Medical Tourism

Some of the criticisms of medical tourism include that there are fewer regulations in the industry; bringing malpractice litigation can be difficult; you typically have a lack of adequate follow-up care; and the culture shock and jet lag can sometimes be too much for patients.
07/07/2015 12:45pm ET | Updated July 7, 2016
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Everyone is talking about the astronomical cost of health care. But major operations don't have to be financially unattainable in your life.

Just how affordable can health care be? To discover the answer, you might have to be like the nearly one million Americans who go overseas every year for radically discounted surgical procedures. They're part of an ongoing trend at the crossroads of health care and travel called medical tourism.

But before you book your flight, read this...

1. Check with your insurer first

Like all medicine, the path to medical tourism basically has two routes: You can either buy services at the going market rate and pay cash out of pocket, or you can run a procedure through your insurer if they allow it. Of course, not all insurers are on board with medical tourism. But it's always worth calling your insurer during the planning stage and asking about your options.

2. Carefully vet all doctors and facilities

The Joint Commission International (JCI) is the top dog when it comes to inspecting medical sites around the world. At JointCommissionInternational.org, you can see if a facility you're considering has passed inspection and meets standards. Some 220 overseas medical sites are accredited by JCI. If the one you're considering isn't, I'd advise you to look at another one that is. You also want to be sure the doctors you're considering are trained or board certified in the United States or another First World country.

3. Make a plan for communicating with relatives back home

Smartphones make it very easy to stay in touch thanks to free video chat options like Skype, Google Chat (for Android), and FaceTime (for Apple iOS).

One word of warning, though: Never use your regular cellphone overseas. You'll generally have to buy an unlocked world phone and a SIM card for your country of destination to avoid getting hammered on the data rates from your U.S.-based wireless provider.

4. Know the downsides

While it has a lot of plusses, medical tourism is not for everybody. Knowing what to expect can help you make a decision if it's right for your life. Some of the criticisms of medical tourism include that there are fewer regulations in the industry; bringing malpractice litigation can be difficult; you typically have a lack of adequate follow-up care; and the culture shock and jet lag can sometimes be too much for patients.

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