Medical tourism on the rise as home country costs soar

Published:  22 Mar at 6 PM
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As the cost of private medical care soars in the Western world, a number of countries are deliberately touting their medical tourism facilities.

Malaysia, Thailand, Mexico, Costa Rica and Columbia are all favourites, especially for non-essentials such as cosmetic surgery and dentistry as well as non-urgent procedures for lifestyle-affecting conditions. The USA’s medical costs are the highest in the world, even taking into account their health system, and the near-collapse of the drastically underfunded UK National Health Service is persuading Brits to take a chance on overseas medical facilities.

Costa Rica has long been known as a hub for US citizens looking for cheaper, quality healthcare, and attracts a good number of expat retirees as a result. It’s convenient for USA citizens, many of its medical professionals have trained in America and costs are still less than in the USA although they’re on the level with many European countries including the UK. A recent survey awarded the country the number one spot in its healthcare category.

Columbia is known as a hub for plastic surgery including facelifts and breast augmentation,as well as general dentistry and is far less expensive than the USA and UK. Lasik eye surgery at half the price of the same operation in the USA is also a popular option for expat residents as well as medical tourists. Mexico’s private health industry takes full advantage of the country’s proximity to the USA and Canada as well as its exotic locations perfect for recuperation. Costs in general are half those in the USA and cheaper than in the UK.

Thailand has publicised its medical tourism facilities for more than a decade, with Bangkok the favoured location for cosmetic surgery, dentistry and non-urgent general surgery. Private hospitals cater for expats as well as tourists, and offer a choice of specialist surgeons competent in the latest medical technology. However, the private hospital system allows surgeons to work for several hospitals at the same time as well as attending at public hospitals, making waiting times often longer than they need be. In addition, the cost of private medical and surgical care is soaring year on year, and some patients may find the lack of fluent English a problem.

If understanding exactly what’s needed and what's being provided is an issue, Malaysia is the answer. English is widely spoken due to the country’s history as a former British colony plus the fact that most Malaysian medical and surgical professionals have trained in the UK, Australia or the USA. More than a million medical tourists arrived during 2017, with even more expected this year. Prices are cheaper than in the West and dentistry, whether cosmetic or remedial, is affordable even at high-end practices.
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