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.