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Saturday, June 19, 2010

NEWS & POLITICS - The Rise of Medical Tourism

The Rise of Medical Tourism

Medical tourism, the term used to describe the practice of visiting another country in order to receive medical treatment of some kind, is back on the rise. Many Americans routinely travel across the Mexican border to have a wide range of elective surgeries, medical treatments, and dental care and to obtain the prescription medications they might not be able to afford in the United States. Just a few years ago, it was estimated more than 750,000 Americans left the U.S. for the purpose of medical tourism.

There was a time when this practice centered on cosmetic surgeries or elective procedures that simply cost too much in the U.S. Many of the procedures done in Mexico can cost less than half of what they would in the United States. The sharp economic downturn of the past few years led to a decline of medical tourism. However, as the economy has picked up so has the ability to travel across the border and have procedures done. It has also picked up again because it is now being seen as more acceptable, safe and a very cost effective way to get medical care that may be too expensive to afford in the U.S.

Border towns such as Tijuana, Ensenada and Rosarito are prime destinations for medical tourism. The rise is evident in the availability of care in these towns. Dentists in these towns have public relations campaigns underway which focus on showing American patients they are respectable, affordable and trustworthy. American dentists are even opening practices in these communities.

The number of pharmacies located along the border proves there is a market for affordable prescription drugs, many made by the same name brand companies as in the U.S. Latest numbers report there are 876 pharmacies in the Tijuana, with 345 located very near the Mexican-U.S. border. Prescription drugs at these pharmacies are typically 50% to 70% less in Mexico than in the U.S. For many travelers, this is the most cost effective way to get the medications they need.

When a patient comes across the border for service, be it medical or dental, they should know the risks, check licenses and check references. Most Mexican facilities are comparable to U.S. when it comes to technology and level of care. As the word gets out that medical tourism is on the rise again, quality has improved even more. Through legislation and medical pilot programs, medical tourism is becoming more popular and safe than ever. With the state of health care in the United States, crossing the border for certain procedures is the only option for some.

Medical tourists need to take the time to investigate the facts before heading across the border due to recent legal changes that can affect them directly. Starting April 1st, a prescription will be necessary for anyone wanting to buy antibiotics. Some, including the head of Tijuana’s Medical Association, Germin Diaz Hernandez, sees this new law as potentially harmful to residents. He believes it was passed too quickly and will take a toll on the middle class working families and also strain the medical system since everyone will have to get medical care to receive an antibiotic. However, Diaz sees the benefits also. He says, “[This measure] has mixed consequences: on the one hand, it is beneficiary for the medical sector, because it will mean more patients, and it will also modify the culture of self medicating or going directly to a pharmacy in order to get a recommendation on what to take.” One other fear of making a prescription necessary for residents and medical tourists alike is the potential for a black market to spring up.

Medical tourists can get excellent care and affordable prescriptions simply by doing the necessary research and being sure of the care they need and expect. They should know the risks, true costs of care, and any other changes to legislation that may affect their ability to seek many different kinds of treatment across the border.