Traveling for Medical Care — The Increasing Popularity of Medical Tourism

by Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel LLP

[co-author: Philip Nimoityn, M.D.]

Medical tourism is the term used to describe the movement of patients across international borders in pursuit of medical care and treatment. While in the United States the term is usually associated with Americans leaving the country in search of low-cost treatments — particularly cosmetic surgery, dental care, fertility treatments, and heart surgery — the term also refers to international patients who travel to the United States for care. Generally speaking, international patients who travel to the United States seek access to medical procedures that are either not available in their countries of origin or have better patient outcomes in the United States.

In the medical tourism industry, prestigious hospitals (like the Mayo and Cleveland Clinics) are known for their treatment of international patients. Many of these hospitals have specific services catering to international patients, such as airport pick-up and drop-off, hotel shuttles, translators, and traveling planning assistance. These services are intended to facilitate the medical tourism process and combat the difficulties international patients may encounter, including obtaining a visa or overcoming cultural barriers like language differences.

The Philadelphia region has developed its own medical tourism model. Philadelphia International Medicine (“PIM”) is a healthcare organization that connects international patients with local Philadelphia hospitals including Fox Chase Cancer Center, Temple University Hospital, and Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals. PIM assists travelers with travel and accommodations, scheduling, and transferring medical records, and also has a hospital consulting and management subsidiary.

Medical tourism across the world is a multi-billion dollar industry that is expected to continue to grow. Recent estimates gauge the medical tourism industry as bringing in $55 billion a year, and experts predict global growth of approximately 15 to 25 percent annually.

There are risks associated with medical tourism. Quality of care varies dramatically across the world and patients should inquire as to whether the institution they are considering is accredited by the Joint Commission International, an affiliate of the Joint Commission. Patients traveling long distances may be at increased risk for complications such as deep venous thrombosis and may become exposed to diseases for which they lack natural immunity. Patients may not have expected legal protections should complications or other problems occur, and ethical issues with some policies have arisen.

Employer-sponsored medical tourism is a novel approach to decreasing costs for certain elective surgical procedures in which employees are offered incentives including travel expenses to have their procedures performed in foreign countries.

To read more about medical tourism, see the previous post published on our blog written by Renee-Marie Stephano, President and Co-Founder of the Medical Tourism Association.

Philip Nimoityn, M.D., F.A.C.C., received his M.D. degree from Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University. He then completed an Internship in Internal Medicine at Hahnemann University Hospital and a Residency in Internal Medicine and a Fellowship in Cardiovascular Disease at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. He is a Diplomate of the American Board of Internal Medicine and Subspecialty Board of Cardiovascular Disease. He is an Attending Physician at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and a Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University. Dr. Nimoityn is a Fellow of the American College of Cardiology and is a member of the American Society of Echocardiography. He has served as the President of the Medical Staff of Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and as a member of the TJUH Board of Trustees. He currently serves on the Executive Committee of the Medical Staff of Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. His practice focuses on Clinical Cardiology, Preventive Cardiology, the cardiac evaluation and care of the surgical patient, and providing and coordinating comprehensive private (concierge) medical services.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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