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Medical tourism is when individuals travel overseas to undergo specific medical procedures. Because of the increasingly high cost of health care in the United States, some individuals have no other choice but to go abroad for surgery because the surgery or procedure they will undergo is considered “cosmetic” or “elective” (and thus not covered by insurance), or is only partially covered by medical insurance or is considered “experimental.” In some cases, even if medical insurance does provide coverage, the cost of paying the deductible and non-covered portion of a surgery performed in the U.S. is more expensive than paying for the entire procedure in a foreign country. In the U.S. alone, there are almost 50 million individuals without health insurance coverage. For those individuals, medical tourism may be the only option to obtain medical procedures at a cost they can afford.

Medical tourism has become a growing industry outside of the United States, and many consumers are booking medical holidays to such destinations at Costa Rica, Thailand, Brazil, Turkey, Singapore and South Africa. In fact, both surgical and non-surgical procedures, as well as procedures considered by U.S. medical practitioners as “experimental,” are in high demand. Even life-altering or life-saving procedures, such as hip replacements and heart valve replacements, are being done overseas, where the cost savings is significant enough to warrant consideration – procedures are often just a percentage of the cost of the identical procedure being performed in a U.S. hospital. MedRetreat uses what they call "The $6,000 Rule" to determine whether it is worthwhile getting a procedure done abroad. If the procedure would cost $6,000 in the U.S., the patient would probably break even if they went abroad to get it done; any more than that and the patient would save money by going abroad.

The majority of hospitals and clinics that are enticing U.S. consumers to their surgical theaters are doing so because their staff is made up of U.S.- and U.K.-trained medical doctors, surgeons and specialists, and they have access to the state-of-the-art equipment. Furthermore, there is generally no need for a prospective patient to wait for treatment or an operation. The follow-up care is often comprehensive, with the patient being able to convalesce for whatever period of time they need, often with a personal assistant in attendance to them.

Naturally there are risks to any medical procedure, but in the same way that patients exercise due diligence in finding a doctor in the U.S. by checking their credentials and ensuring that they are board certified, all patients should check the credentials of the clinic, hospital and doctors they plan to visit abroad.