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Medical Tourism and Health Care Travel for the Elderly

Medical Tourism and Health Care Travel for the ElderlyThe cost of private health care can at times be unaffordable and this is a global problem. The elderly are often in the most vulnerable position – at a time in life where one’s health is often on a decline, medical insurance having been dropped to trim the personal budget and with limited financial resources in terms of pension and only a small nest egg for the retirement years. It is in these instances when a person may consider seeking cheaper health care and specialized medical services abroad. This trend is known as medical travel or health care tourism. There is worldwide growth in this type of travel abroad, with agencies and health care facilities specializing in medical tourism. However, there are instances where this practice can be dangerous and prove detrimental to one’s health and should only be done after careful consultation with one’s doctor.

Types of Medical Tourism

The more common types of medical services sought abroad are surgical procedures and specialist health care. Cosmetic surgery that is often cheaper than in one’s home country is a popular choice among all age groups. However, the elderly may also seek surgery for age-related conditions, treatment for chronic diseases and even life-saving procedures that are not affordable in their home country or has a long waiting list through state health institutions. Some of the common procedures may include joint replacement, kidney transplants, cataract lens replacement, cardiovascular surgery and even dental procedures.

Sometimes travel for health care is considered for new and as yet unapproved medical services in one’s home country. Stem cell treatment, radical therapies for anti-aging and certain types of cosmetic therapies are among the more common options for the elderly in this regard. There may also be a desire to try alternative therapies that are not easily accessible, particularly in conditions where modern medicine has no effective therapeutic solutions. Another practice which may not be considered as medical tourism as such but falls within the realm of seeking health care solutions abroad is visiting foreign countries to buy medicines at a cheaper price or sometimes even medicines that have not been approved, or been banned by local authorities in one’s home country.

Pros and Cons of Medical Tourism

The main advantage, and often the motivating factor, to seek medical care abroad is the cost factor. This is mainly due to the difference in exchange rates between developed nations and developing countries. However, in some countries with a relative oversupply of medical professionals, cheaper manufacturing processes for pharmaceuticals and less stringent legislation, health care can be significantly cheaper apart from the forex rate of the day. The other advantage is that some countries have more medical specialists available meaning shorter waiting periods for consultations and treatment. There may also be professionals with super specialties that are difficult to find in one’s home country. More radical treatments may also be available due to the difference in health care legislation among countries. These treatments which may at times be dangerous is nevertheless in demand by some, particularly among people with severe disability or a terminal illness where medical options are limited.

However, there are several cons to medical tourism which have been better controlled due to the rapidly burgeoning medical tourism industry these days and reputable travel agencies that now oversee this industry. The first is unscrupulous medical tourism operators, medical specialists and other parties in the travel and medical industry. Another factor is poor medical training in some countries thereby leading to a level of health care that is substandard. The lack of legislation and black market dealers in medical devices, organs for transplantation and pharmaceuticals may mean that a medical tourist is receiving substandard products, illegally obtained items or even counterfeit and ineffective drugs and devices.

Medical Tourism for the Elderly

Seeking medical services abroad should only be considered after consulting with one’s family doctor and discussing the viability and safety of doing so. It is also important to be aware of the implications of undergoing these services which may not be available in one’s home country for valid reasons. The elderly need to be aware of the fact that they are often seen as softer targets by criminals and more so when in a vulnerable position like recovering from surgery or in poor health. A senior should always consider traveling with a close friend or family member who is in good health and willing to assist one during the time abroad. Lastly one has to bear in mind that age-related changes in the body, even when treatable, may only offer short term relief and the benefits should be weighed out against the risks and even financial implications.


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