Medical tourism services available to residents of the United States

J Gen Intern Med. 2011 May;26(5):492-7. doi: 10.1007/s11606-010-1582-8. Epub 2010 Dec 15.


Background: There are growing reports of United States (US) residents traveling overseas for medical care, but empirical data about medical tourism are limited.

Objective: To characterize the businesses and business practices of entities promoting medical tourism and the types and costs of procedures being offered. DESIGN, PARTICIPANTS, AND OUTCOMES: Between June and August 2008, we conducted a telephone survey of all businesses engaged in facilitating overseas medical travel for US residents. We collected information from each company including: the number of employees; number of patients referred overseas; medical records security processes; destinations to which patients were referred; treatments offered; treatment costs; and whether patient outcomes were collected.

Results: We identified 63 medical tourism companies and 45 completed our survey (71%). Companies had a mean of 9.8 employees and had referred an average of 285 patients overseas (a total of approximately 13,500 patients). 35 (79%) companies reported requiring accreditation of foreign providers, 22 (50%) collected patient outcome data, but only 17 (39%) described formal medical records security policies. The most common destinations were India (23 companies, 55%), Costa Rica (14, 33%), and Thailand (12, 29%). The most common types of care included orthopedics (32 companies, 73%), cardiac care (23, 52%), and cosmetic surgery (29, 66%). 20 companies (44%) offered treatments not approved for use in the US--most commonly stem cell therapy. Average costs for common procedures, CABG ($18,600) and knee arthroplasty ($10,800), were similar to previous reports.

Conclusions: The number of Americans traveling overseas for medical care with assistance from medical tourism companies is relatively small. Attention to medical records security and patient outcomes is variable and cost-savings are dependent on US prices. That said, overseas medical care can be a reasonable alternative for price sensitive patients in need of relatively common, elective medical procedures.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Data Collection / methods
  • Elective Surgical Procedures / economics
  • Elective Surgical Procedures / standards
  • Elective Surgical Procedures / trends
  • Health Services Accessibility / economics
  • Health Services Accessibility / trends*
  • Humans
  • Marketing / economics
  • Marketing / methods
  • Marketing / trends
  • Medical Records / economics
  • Medical Records / standards
  • Medical Tourism / economics
  • Medical Tourism / trends*
  • Quality of Health Care / economics
  • Quality of Health Care / standards
  • Quality of Health Care / trends
  • Residence Characteristics*
  • Travel / economics
  • Travel / trends*
  • United States