Medical tourism: reasons, risks, and common misconceptions

Posted at 4:08 PM, Mar 10, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-10 18:23:17-05

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. (WXYZ) — Medical tourism, or seeking medical care abroad, has been around for decades. Recently, a group traveling from South Carolina to Mexico was involved in a tragic case of mistaken identity. One of the victims visited the country for a medical procedure when the group was kidnapped. Two were killed.

The topic of medical tourism piqued Erin Maki’s interest, as a nursing student studying at Wayne County Community College.

“I think it’s higher risk, but I see why people do it because it is cheaper," Maki said.

She added, “People go to these countries to get the procedure and then once they get back to the United States there’s complications.”

Complications are a potential risk, and they're on a list of warnings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for those considering.

7 Action News spoke with Jonathan Edelheight who's the CEO of the Medical Tourism Association.

“There’s reasons why people travel," he said.

Edelheit said one reason people travel abroad for medical care is quality. Two others are accessibility and availability.

“Most Americans are traveling because you can get a high quality at super affordable prices. We’re talking 50 to 90 percent off major procedures. Dental work, expensive drugs," he explained.

Before going to another country for medical care for whatever reason, experts say doing your homework is of the utmost importance.

Travis Kraft is the founder of Passport Medical which is a medical facilitator based in Canada that helps patients find reputable healthcare providers all over the world and get there safely.

“Using a facilitator really takes a lot of that guesswork out of the equation," he told 7 Action News.

“We always monitor any travel advisories or any danger spots. If we have patients that are going to anything like that, we will not send ‘em," Kraft explained.

He said he finds the leading procedure people seek overseas is dental work.

“Dental implants, both in Canada and in the US are astronomical, landing anywhere from $4,000 to $6,000 per implant," Kraft said.

Kraft and Edelheit say a common misconception is that care is inferior in foreign countries.

"Any time that you sort of mention Mexico and surgery in the same sentence, people think you're going to get operated in the back seat of a car in a back alley somewhere which couldn't be farthest thing from the truth," Kraft said.

He said the hospitals he deals with are JCI accredited or Joint Commission International and that hospitals in the U.S. and Canada are governed by that organization.

They say it's just a matter of doing your own research and what's best for your needs.