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Recently a patient told me she was going overseas for a medical procedure to save on costs. What do I need to know about patients who go to other countries for treatment? For instance, what are the risks?-C.J., VA.


Traveling to another country for medical care is known as medical tourism. Patients may go outside the United States to get care not offered here, to get care in their country of origin, or like your patient, to save on out-of-pocket costs.1 Many patients go to other countries for cardiovascular, cosmetic, bariatric, orthopedic, or dental procedures or surgery.2


Patients should know the risks of this practice. Misunderstandings may arise if the healthcare providers aren't fluent in the patient's preferred language. In some countries, medications may be of poor quality or counterfeit, and antibiotic-resistant infections may be more of a problem, according to the CDC.1 Also a concern are bloodborne pathogens, either from improper use or reuse of equipment such as needles or unsafe blood transfusion practices.2 She should be aware that some countries use U.S. trade names for different drugs, which can cause dangerous errors.3 Finally, because flying soon after surgery raises the risk of a venous thromboembolism, patients may need to extend their stay until it's safe for them to fly.1


For more information about how your patient should prepare for such a trip and what she should do after returning to the United States, see the CDC's website on medical tourism shown below. For instance, she should visit a travel medicine practitioner 4 to 6 weeks before the trip or earlier to go over the risks of travel and the specific procedure.1




1. CDC. Medical tourism. 2016. [Context Link]


2. Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC). Medical tourism: risks and safety considerations. 2015. [Context Link]


3. Institute for Safe Medication Practices. Drug brand name may not have same ingredient in another country. 2012. [Context Link]