Flying for treatment: an introduction to health care tourism

Completely blind after three failed eye operations, Lin Yu Shan boarded a flight from her home in Taiwan to Singapore, for an appointment with world-class ophthalmologist, Dr. Leonard Ang. A week later, following surgery to reconstruct her right eye, the 41-year-old could see again. The operation was life changing.

Lin’s story is an example of health tourism – among estimated 14 million people globally travel for medical treatments every year.

The pros and cons of travelling for treatment 

Despite the emphasis is on ensuring patients receive the right treatment from most efficient health care systems, there’s been much worries travelling for treatment, and majors are:

  • Cost, broadly varies from region to another. The price of a knee replacement in the U.S. at $48,000. Travel to India and the same operation will cost $8500, more than 80% cheaper. A heart bypass that costs $113,000 in the U.S. can be bought for just $3250 in Mexico, while operations in Malaysia are typically 65-80% cheaper.
  • Self-arrangement, patients need to find specialist clinics that can handle the treatments they need, organize and pay for flights, find suitable accommodation, arrange pre-admission checks, and spend time recuperating if they can’t return home immediately. There remains a degree of uncertainty in seeking treatment in another country.

Removing the uncertainty

This is where Aetna have stepped in, are well placed to help patients in the event they need to travel for treatment – before, during, and after their travel; removing many of the uncertainties and providing end-to-end support. 

Our CARE team help patients finding providers for their treatment in other countries, coordinating both complex and routine medical care, and we’re on hand to answer questions about the health care system of the country they’re travelling to.

Above and beyond location or cost, although cost is still considered, our dedicated case managers are on hand to organise travel and accommodation. And if a patient needs to travel to a specialist that isn’t part of the Aetna network, they’ll arrange direct billing so patients can focus on recovering rather than paying bills.

Top destinations for health tourist:

  1. Singapore, as Lin Yu Shan would no doubt attest, has one of the best health care provisions in the world.
  2. Malaysia, swept the board in the International Medical Travel Journal Awardsin 2016 for dentistry, fertility, and cosmetic surgery services.
  3. Bulgaria and Poland are popular choices for dentistry.
  4. India is an established provider of orthopaedic surgery, including knee and hip replacements.
  5. Spanish health care system has a growing reputation in providing fertility treatments.
  6. Dubai has quickly become a key destination for orthopaedics and sports medicine, plastic surgery, ophthalmology, and dental procedures.