More American patients seek treatment abroad to escape high medical costs

by Tom Ramstack ,  AHN | 2011-10-31

The number of Americans heading abroad for medical care rose sharply last year amid high health care costs and a poor economy in the United States, according to medical tourism industry figures. Some of their preferred locations for life-saving surgeries and other procedures are India and Mexico, the health information company Health Digital Systems reported. Surgeries like hip replacements, dental implants and heart bypasses can cost half as much in Southeast Asia and Latin America compared with the United States.

Among the six million Americans who traveled abroad for medical care last year, 45 percent traveled to Asia, 26 percent to Latin America and 2 percent to the Middle East, according to industry statistics. Health care officials in the countries treating foreigners are upbeat about their patients. Medical tourism, primarily from the United States and Europe, represents a nearly $100 billion a year industry. Mexico’s Health Ministry recently produced a report saying “the globalization of health services can offer excellent medical care at lower costs than developed countries.”

The health ministry has developed a strategic plan to encourage medical tourism by continuing “the effort to improve the perception of public safety and promote [Mexico’s] image as a global capital of culture and entertainment.”Any success by Mexico’s health providers in reaching American patients is most obvious in border cities like Monterrey, Tijuana and Chihuahua, according to the Health Digital Systems. Pharmacies, hospitals and medical specialty practices have sprung up to take care of them.

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