Medical tourism refers to travel when the principal purpose of the trip is to obtain medical treatment in another country. Sometimes travel for medical care is combined with a holiday or to visit relatives.
It is usually undertaken by those from countries where certain medical services are not available or expensive such as complicated investigations, surgery (e.g. cosmetic or for transplants) and dental implants. Sometimes it is to avoid long waiting lists.
There are commercial companies which specialise in making both medical and accommodation arrangements for those considering medical treatment abroad.
The best private medical care in some poorer countries such as India is often similar to that in more economically advanced countries as well as being cheaper.
Discussing the arrangements in advance with the patient's general practitioner is a sensible precaution to confirm fitness to travel and obtain a letter giving details of any relevant medical history.
The patient will have to pay for the consultation, investigations and treatment as well as the travel and accommodation unless staying with relatives or friends.
Those going abroad for treatment should still take out travel health insurance and insurance companies usually ask specifically whether the purpose of the journey is to obtain medical care. This insurance is essential to ensure cover for unrelated medical emergencies.
Fitness to travel
Any traveller going abroad for medical care has to carefully consider their fitness to undertake the journey both to and from the country concerned.
They need to consider where they will stay while waiting for a consultation and/or medical procedures and how they will convalesce if surgery or other temporarily disabling procedures have been involved.
After certain forms of surgery, there may be an increased risk of venous thrombosis during long air flights, so it is wise not to return home immediately.
A written letter or records should be obtained if possible before return about the diagnosis, treatments and medications received to facilitate any necessary follow-up.