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Medical Tourism

For most people needing medical care, the last thing on their minds is travel but a growing number of American medical tourists are setting out for India, Thailand and Latin America for everything from dental work to breast implants to major heart surgery. Rising health care costs in the US push people to seek medical treatments elsewhere, while medical facilities in developing countries have not only caught up to western standards but also in many ways exceeded them. These tourists are usually surprised to find brand new facilities and equipment as hospitals and medical tourism hubs around the world join in the fierce competition for this fast growing market.

This series of articles explores the reasons for going overseas and for staying home, as well as a comparison of major medical tourism hubs and an in-depth look at two hospitals that cater to international patients. While price is the major factor that first leads patients to look overseas for health care, there are a number of other benefits that often escape notice, though the price difference remains the prime motivator for most people. Medical tourism has its perils, however, and the aspiring tourist should be familiar with possible problems and have a good idea about which hub is right for them long before planning the details of a trip.

This is the main reason most people initially cite for their decision to go overseas for medical treatment, but the situation is actually even better than the bare numbers suggest. Figures that are normally thrown out range from one quarter to one tenth the price of US care, with dental work firmly occupying the one-tenth corner. These estimates are based on India, which is commonly the lowest priced option of sufficient quality for Westerners. While there is considerable variation, as a rule of thumb Thailand, India’s major competitor, is approximately 20% more expensive while the South American and other medical tourism hubs weigh in at 50-100% more than India.

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