The Impact of Medical Tourism on the Survivorship Care Plan

By Vanessa Ira - Last Updated: July 12, 2022

According to the CDC, millions of US residents participate in medical tourism every year. Residents will travel abroad to receive medical care from popular medical tourism destinations like Mexico, Canada, and South America. These travelers include cancer patients who may be looking for lower-cost treatments than those offered in the United States. Besides costs, another reason for seeking treatment abroad is a patient’s need to have access to an unapproved procedure or treatment that is not available or approved in America.

Medical tourism, however, has some downsides. Patients must consider that, depending on the place where the treatment is carried out, as well as their overall health condition, seeking treatment abroad opens the risk of complications. These complications may arise because of the potential for low quality procedures or treatments being carried out at a foreign facility, as requirements for maintaining licensure or credentialing among healthcare professionals may not necessarily match the standards required in the United States. Other countries that support medical tourism may also not be as vigilant about the use of counterfeit medicines.

Rounding off other issues the CDC highlighted regarding the disadvantages of taking part in medical tourism:

  • Communication challenges while dealing with foreign healthcare workers
  • Antibiotic resistance
  • Contracting an infectious disease through donor-driver infections, or diseases such as hepatitis B
  • Boarding a plane following surgery, which could increase the risk for blood clots, including deep vein thrombosis

One of the most important things to consider when patients receive treatment outside of the US is how it will impact their survivorship care plan. This issue is especially relevant to cancer patients, as well as the physicians and nurses who play an important role in carrying out the patient’s survivorship care.

According to Cancer.net, a survivorship care plan is “a personalized schedule of follow-up examinations and tests that the doctor recommends after a patient’s active treatment period ends. This may include regular physical examinations and/or medical tests to monitor the patient’s recovery for the coming months and years.”

Healthcare professionals in a patient’s home country may face problems when dealing with medical tourists returning home following treatment abroad, who will then need a follow-up care plan. These patients will often not have records of the procedures they underwent, nor the medications they received. Significantly, they may not even have the contact information for the foreign healthcare worker who provided their services.

When a complication arises as a result of receiving treatment in a foreign country, it is the local healthcare professional who is tasked with finding a solution to what went wrong. The American Medical Association (AMA) stresses that physicians should be educated regarding the implications of medical tourism for individual patients and the community.

The AMA recommends some of the following steps professional medical societies may take, among them:

  • Supporting the collection of, and access to, outcomes data from medical tourists to enable informed decision making
  • Advocating for appropriate oversight of medical tourism and companies that facilitate it to protect patient safety
  • Advocating against policies that would require patients to accept care abroad as a condition of access to needed services
  • And advocating for the education of healthcare professionals about medical tourism.

References:
CDC
Cancer.net
Ama-assn.org
NIH

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