Growing Use of “Medical Tourism” and Possible Malpractice

A recent post at shared information on an interesting new phenomenon which may have implications for the safety of community members. The story explained the rise of “medical tourism.” This refers to Americans who travel abroad specifically to receive medical treatment, usually at staggeringly reduced costs. For many reasons, someone may not be able to afford certain care in the U.S. Rates here are very high, and when insurance coverage for the necessary service is poor (or nonexistent), then it is not entirely unreasonable for the American medical patient to consider traveling elsewhere for the work.

In fact, according to the post, different industries have sprung up to promote these trips. Insurance companies have even be supporting the practice, because it lowers their potential liability. And when the care provided in these medical trips is up to reasonable quality standards, then patients benefit from the care they need at a lower cost.

But what happens when things go wrong?

One huge caveat to traveling abroad to receive medical care is the risk of harm. For one thing, many have concerns about the quality of the services provided. Bargains are great for certain purchases, but when one’s health is on the line, it is important to be careful about sacrificing quality. Fortunately, many of the companies involved in facilitating these trips work to provide information on quality to ensure patients are not receiving obviously substandard care.

Yet, no matter what, there is always risk of medical negligence. What options are available to American patients who travel abroad and are hurt by medical malpractice?

Unfortunately, the options are few and far between. For one thing, it is difficult for a U.S. court to have jurisdiction over a case stemming from the actions of a doctor in another country. Alternatively, a suit seeking redress can be filed in the foreign country itself, but the rules about recovery elsewhere are often far different than in the United States. The process may take a long time and be costly.

One alternative is to look and see if the companies which facilitates the trip in the U.S. have any responsibility for the harm. Because they are U.S. companies, jurisdiction is not an issue. However, the actual legal arguments available in these instances is likely limited. After all, the companies did not commit the medical negligence directly. Arguments can be made about their knowledge of risks and minimization of information to the client regarding those risks. But these legal claims are far more difficult to prove, and the success rate is much lower than traditional suits against the medical providers who actually committed the error.

Any way you look at it, the ability to recover following medical errors during a “medical tourism” trip is limited.

Of course, this does not automatically mean that these options should be off the table. But it does counsel toward being very prudent about the decision–its not something to be taken lightly. And if you do travel abroad for medical care, it might be worthwhile to consider medical malpractice insurance. This provides coverage in the event that things go wrong on the trip–an option for having protection from harm even if legal options are not on the table.

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