Medical tourism involves going to seek treatment in another country. It is appealing to many patients who need surgery, and for a number of reasons. Often, surgery costs are lower in foreign countries compared to the same surgery offered in the United States. Some of the most common foreign destinations Americans go to when they leave the country for surgery include Mexico, India, Thailand, and Brazil. It may sound too good to be true: The cost of surgery is lower, the surgeon may have gone to medical school in the United States, or the idea of a vacation abroad is too good to pass up.
So, what’s the catch?
Some of the risks of traveling to a foreign country for spine surgery include:
- Poor quality surgery: Your surgeon may be less talented than someone you could find in your own neighborhood. That’s because information about your surgeon’s credentials could be misleading or even impossible to verify. They might not even be trained in spine surgery and have a different medical background that is not a direct skillset transfer.
- Lower quality nursing staff: A good nursing team can make all the difference in the outcome of your surgery. That’s because they’re trained to identify potential problems and fix them before they become major issues. Nurses in other countries may not identify a problem until it’s too late.
- Lower quality facility: You likely don’t expect poor-quality equipment, outdated technology, or a lack of resources when it comes to American healthcare. That’s why it’s so important to do your research before choosing a foreign facility. For instance, you can verify whether there is a major hospital nearby with an intensive care unit where you could be transferred in case of an emergency.
- Recovery problems: Healing from back surgery isn’t as simple when you add travel to your recovery. Long flights can increase your risk for blood clots and force you to sit for longer periods, which is not recommended. Lengthy walks in airport terminals can make you tired and aggravate your symptoms. If you do go abroad, you should make sure you have healed sufficiently before you fly home in case you face serious complications.
- Language barrier: Communicating with your doctor and their support staff will likely be much trickier if they don’t speak your native language. Again, make sure you research anywhere you plan to go to ensure you can communicate effectively back and forth.
- Lack of long-term follow-up care: Just as healing is important, so is keeping in touch with your spine surgeon. Once you return home, you’ll likely have minimal, if any, further interaction with your surgeon. What’s more, many U.S. spine surgeons could hesitate to take you as their patients if they have concerns about the quality of care you received overseas.
What Are the Potential Long-Term Consequences?
As with most things in life, you not only get what you pay for, but in this instance, you could suffer lasting harm from seeking spine surgery in another country. While the up-front price may be lower, the long-term costs of a botched surgery could be astronomical once you return home.
You could also risk undergoing surgery from an unqualified doctor. You wouldn’t go to your dentist for strep throat, so you shouldn’t leave it to chance whether your surgeon is qualified. The preparation, the procedure itself, and the recovery period are very involved for all forms of spine surgery. It’s a roll of the dice if your surgeon has a track record of success. The opposite is true in the U.S., where it’s easy to obtain information about malpractice lawsuits against physicians who have been sanctioned in the past.
It's also possible you’ll come home from the surgery you had abroad with surgical damage, disfiguring scars, or put simply, a terrible outcome. It could even leave you worse off than you were before you sought back surgery.
Contact Comprehensive Spine Institute for a Consultation
When it comes to quality spinal care, Comprehensive Spine Institute can help you throughout the process of evaluating, diagnosing, treating, and managing your back condition. Don’t leave your future to chance. Our talented, board-certified surgeons can help you every step of the way, so we encourage you to reach out for an appointment by calling (727) 300-2537 today.