The Dark Side of Medical Tourism

In cancer care for inexplicable reasons patients often travel to Mexico for alternative treatments, that inevitably fail. In 40 years, I’ve never seen a patient with documented cancer who benefitted.

The choice of Mexico is certainly not for quality or necessarily because the patient is a fan of “alternative medicine” but rather is often dictated by our poor non-system of health care and excessive costs. It can be risky as this patient learned.

“In the United States the lowest quote I got was $24,000.00 for the surgery and in Mexico,” [she] said. “I was getting quotes of $12,000.00 to $14,000.00 and I ended up paying $12,500.00.” But it was no bargain–since the April surgery she’s been to the emergency room three times. Larissa said she’s been told she needs surgery or she’ll slowly die. “I don’t have any more money, I don’t have insurance and [surgeons here] don’t want to take on somebody else’s mistakes.”

Medicynical note: Shopping for health care presumes that the non-emergent nature of the problem allows time to shop. It also requires availability of alternatives, and finances and/or insurance that will cover the cost. The final factors are knowledge of the skill, training and expertise of the chosen facility and awareness of the medical problem, treatment alternatives and their cost/effectivness.

Most people don’t have the time, access (locale or finances) or knowledge to “shop” for care and/or become a medical tourist. Lots of opportunities here for the unscrupulous and poorly trained to take advantage.

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