Mexico kidnapping draws attention to medical tourism

Last week, four Americans were kidnapped in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, after crossing the Texas border. Two were later found dead. A sister of one of the victims said they had traveled to Mexico so that one of them could have a tummy tuck, better known as a tummy tuck.

Each year, millions of Americans visit Mexico and other countries for health care, a practice often called Medical tourism. Mexico’s National Exterior Commerce Bank estimated the industry was worth $5 billion before declining during the coronavirus pandemic. For patients, the motivation is often financial.

“Part of it is a desperate search for access” to medical care, said Felicia Marie Knaul, director of the Institute for Advanced Study of the Americas at the University of Miami.

Many people cross the border to buy pharmaceuticals at prices much lower than what you pay in the United States. Others, especially Americans and Canadians of the past two decades, travel for surgeries or treatment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says dental care, surgeries, fertility treatments, organ and tissue transplants, and cancer treatment are the most common procedures for which people go abroad. Elective procedures are a major component of medical tourism, said Daniel Béland, a political science professor at McGill University who has studied health policy.

In 2016, the CDC questioned more than 93,000 people; among those who had left the United States for care in the previous year, Mexico was the most common destination.

But while crossing national borders may be an affordable way to get high-quality care, medical tourism is largely unregulated and it’s nearly impossible to track the results or extent of procedures Americans get at home. Mexico.

“There really are very few rules,” said David G. Vequist IV, director of the Medical Tourism Research Center and professor at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas. Those that do exist are vague, he added, and people are “much of it making it up as they go.”

It’s hard to find solid data on medical tourism, said Valorie Crooks, a professor of geography at Simon Fraser University in Canada who has studied it for more than a decade.

She calls the industry a “triple U”: it’s “untracked, untraced and unregulated.”

Most Mexican hospitals visited by Americans are private and do not report their data to the federal government.

Josef Woodman, chief executive of Patients Beyond Borders, which serves as an international healthcare travel advisory agency and patient guide for people seeking care abroad, estimates that around 1.2 million Americans a year travel to Mexico for medical procedures. After a drop in medical tourism during the pandemic, Woodman said, he has seen an increase in the number of people seeking treatment in Mexico as they get vaccinated.

“After the first vax, people poured in,” he said.

Complex dental treatments like root canals, veneers and full mouth reconstructions are among the most popular procedures, Woodman said. Los Algodones, near the California-Arizona border, is known as “Molar city” because it caters to this market.

The most common destinations tend to be in Mexican states along the border, like Tamaulipas and Nuevo León, or those with popular beach towns, like Baja California Sur and Quintana Roo, according to Denise Rodriguez, who is studying for a Ph.D. . in Health Geography at the University of Brasília in Brazil and interviewed hundreds of people involved in medical tourism in Los Algodones for his master’s thesis.

By counting the number of private hospitals and medical professionals available, she discovered that Baja California Sur was the state with the most medical tourism.

Because the overhead costs of running a clinic or health care center in Mexico are much lower, patients typically pay much less than they would for a procedure in the United States, said the Dr Crooks.

A study, which surveyed more than 400 people near the US-Mexico border about travel for health care, found that 92 percent cited lower costs in Mexico to guide their decision. Andrea Miller, a clinical pharmacist in Arizona who led the study, was struck by the extent of medical service advertising and infrastructure in a Mexican border town.

“You look down the street and it’s like a pharmacy, a pharmacy, an optical clinic, a dental clinic, a pharmacy, a dental clinic,” she said.

Some patients are also traveling overseas to circumvent red tape and restrictions that might hinder them at home, Dr Crooks said.

“You might be too young or too old for orthopedic surgery; you might be too small or too big for bariatric surgery – and then you find a surgeon in another country who is willing to offer you the treatment,” she said.

Other patients travel to get procedures that are illegal where they live, including abortions.

Money doesn’t explain much, said Rodriguez, who found many travelers were simply looking for more personalized care and time with a doctor.

“Why do people come back?” she says. “You are treated like a human being.”

Although traveling for healthcare in certain parts of the world can be dangerous, experts said that for most patients the risks are more related to the medical procedure than the journey to obtain it.

Patients who engage in medical tourism seek care themselves and pay out of pocket, Dr Crooks added. This can mean that their primary care doctors are uninformed, which can lead to problems when patients seek follow-up care at home.

The CDC recommends patients schedule a consultation with their U.S. health care provider before leaving the country for medical care, said Allison Tayler Walker, health branch epidemiology and surveillance team leader. agency travellers. The CDC also advises patients to arrange follow-up care in advance with the professional performing the procedure overseas, as well as with a treating physician in the United States.

There are also specific risks associated with certain procedures — for example, doctors warn against flying too soon after certain surgeries, Dr Béland said, because the procedures can make a person more susceptible to blood clots.

Mr. Woodman recommended seeking hospitals accredited by International Joint Commission. It’s important for patients to make sure anyone providing medical care to them has received proper training, said Dr. Patricia Turner, executive director of the American College of Surgeons. This includes not only the doctor performing surgery, for example, but also the person administering anesthesia or interpreting x-rays.

Getting a service as complicated as surgery in another country, with different laws and cultural norms, can be complicated. For example, a person who receives improper medical care abroad may have little or no legal recourse and may not know what their rights are. And any procedure carries a risk of complications, and in another country a patient may need to stay longer than expected for follow-up care or to recover, Dr Crooks warned.

“It’s not necessarily that those risks are higher when you go overseas,” Dr Crooks said. “But your ability to remedy or manage those risks could become more difficult.”

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