The Growing Risks of Medical Tourism

Travelling abroad for medical care, also known as medical tourism, has been steadily growing over the past few years. Many people are flocking to other countries to seek medical care because various reasons and circumstances have made it a viable option for treatment.

Why are people doing it?

According to a recent article written by the Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA), there are many factors that contribute to why people are looking for medical care outside of their primary home jurisdiction.

The three main reasons are:

  • Long wait times
  • Procedures or treatments are too costly
  • Treatments are unavailable

Another key reason that medical tourism as an industry has flourished is due to globalization. This sector has been able to expand because many countries are actively seeking people from overseas (medical tourists) to experience their medical care. For example, many Asian countries, Middle Eastern and Latin American countries have developed their infrastructure and facilities specifically to bring people from abroad to their hospitals. With the Internet and technology as a whole, it is easy to access this knowledge through third party sites, book appointments, find a broker, find accommodation and make travel arrangements – which is why many people are going for this route.

The improvement of guidelines and standards of accreditation for these destinations have also significantly spiked the growth of medical tourism. It’s true that many people come to Canada on their visas or visiting permits to receive medical care. However, the number of Canadians seeking medical care abroad – roughly 52, 513 people in 2014 –is higher than those who are coming in for treatment on Canadian soil.

The Risks

The risks are presented to the physicians who are liable to give their patients information on out-of-country treatments and referrals. There are a lot of problems however, in ensuring that the information about procedure success rates at facilities are abroad are reliable and line up with the treatment that their patient is going to get.

Many physicians do not feel comfortable in giving a referral if they are unaware of the procedure’s risk and benefits itself, or if they question the reliability of the source.

Once a physician does provide professional advice to advocate for the procedure abroad, this puts them in the position of a duty of care – a legal obligation that is imposed on any physician to ensure that their care does not put their patient in harm’s way. It is the first element that must be established to proceed with an action in negligence. This leaves a physician in a vulnerable position of having legal action against them in the foreign jurisdiction. This also affects their ability to have help from CMPA on their case.

Finally, many patients also receive out of country procedures that are unknown, illegal and untested in Canada resulting in little to no documentation of the procedure. Canadian physicians will have a hard time following up or tracing harmful symptoms if they don’t have any idea what the procedure really entailed, affecting the continuity of care.

This is particularly pertinent in the case of bariatric surgery, which is a popular reason for Canadians engaging in medical tourism. While it can sometimes be difficult for Canadians to secure bariatric procedures within the Canadian health care system, traveling abroad for bariatric surgery is not recommended, as the potential side-effects of a botched procedure can be life threatening. Further, one has to consider that in order to decrease costs, reprocessing of single use instruments, or unapproved sterilization techniques are used, increasing the risk of catching resistant bacteria, fungus, and life threatening viruses. Lack of physician certification is common, with poor access to intensive care units, and advanced support care when a complication occurs.  Many patients are unable to get transferred back to Canada with the service of an air ambulance. The best course of action in this case is to consult a bariatric surgery specialist such as Dr. Michel Gagner in order to explore your options.














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