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Many Americans Travel to Other Countries for Medical Care

2016-12-26

Eleven million people worldwide travel to other countries for low-cost medical treatment. This kind of travel is known as “medical tourism.”

Experts say people spend hundreds of billions of dollars on medical tourism every year. And, experts predict the industry will grow by up to 25 percent a year over the next 10 years.

VISA and Oxford Economics recently studied medical tourism trends. The study found that such travel is increasing because of the rising cost of medical treatments, the aging of societies and advances in international transportation. About 340 new international airports will be built in the next 10 years, VISA says.

A company called MedRepublic is connecting doctors with people around the world who need medical care. Robert Page founded the company.

Two dentists work on an American patient at a dental clinic in San Jose, Costa Rica. REUTERS/Juan Carlos Ulate.
Two dentists work on an American patient at a dental clinic in San Jose, Costa Rica. REUTERS/Juan Carlos Ulate.

“Our software allows patients to use our website so they can search for doctors directly and talk to them," he said.

Page says the top country for medical tourism is Thailand. The United States is second. He says the United States is “a country with a level of specialized medicine not found elsewhere.”

The recent VISA study says the United States was the top destination for medical tourism, not Thailand. It also found an increasing number of people are traveling to Singapore, Germany, Korea, Spain, Britain, Canada and Israel for medical care.

The VISA report predicts China will become the top destination within the next 10 years.

Between 750,000 and 1.8 million Americans leave the country for medical reasons every year because of the high costs of treatments and surgeries. Page says Mexico is a common choice for American medical tourists.

“For Americans, the main destination is Mexico due to its geographical proximity and the relation(ship) between both countries. The main reason is treatment for cancer,” he said.

Many Americans also travel to other countries for plastic surgery, dental surgery, gastric bypasses and orthopedic surgeries.

Susy Pozo was a medical tourist. Four years ago, she traveled to Mexico for stomach surgery.

“I used to weigh 194 pounds," (or 88 kilograms). "I had many health issues. It’s very expensive in the U.S. I was worried because of the security in Puerto Vallarta, but four years ago I made the best decision of my life: I traveled to Mexico and had stomach surgery at the Puerto Vallarta hospital.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that there are risks connected to less-costly medical treatments in other countries.

Robert Page of MedRepublic says his company tries to lower those risks by helping patients talk directly with foreign doctors.

“We are trying to resolve those issues with the right kind of information to show that a doctor and a hospital in India, for example, offer the same quality as a doctor or a hospital in the United States.”

I’m Alice Bryant.

VOA Correspondents Arturo Martinez and Alejandro Escalona reported this story from Los Angeles. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted the report for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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Words in This Story

trend – n. a general direction of change; a way of behaving, proceeding, etc., that is developing and becoming more common

allow – v. to permit (something); to regard or treat (something) as acceptable

destination – n. a place to which a person is going or something is being sent

proximity – adj. the state of being near