LawTalk Blog

Medical tourism - what could possibly go wrong?

Medical tourism - question everything

In recent times, reports suggest that more people are taking up the option to have medical treatment done overseas for a variety of reasons.

Sometimes it is out of necessity; for example a certain surgical procedure is only done in another country or access to specialist drug trials not being under taken in Australia.

Sometimes it is to circumvent the law in their country; for example, where abortion is illegal or stem cell use is illegal or limited.

Price is often also taken into consideration as some procedures have significantly lower costs.

Sometimes it is for elective medical treatment including cosmetic and dental surgery. Anecdotally, this appears to be a very fast growing area for Australians traveling overseas and is colloquially called “medical tourism”.

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners quote statistics which show Aussies spend up to $300 million overseas on medical treatment each year and up to 15,000 of us are heading over to undertake medical treatment of one form or other. It is understood many link the opportunity to have cost effective surgery combined with a holiday experience or luxurious recovery location.

There are many travel companies dedicated to medical tourism and even Australian private health insurers are offering plans for their members to have treatment overseas.

Some of the most popular procedures for medical tourists are cosmetic and dental. However, increasingly people are travelling for joint replacement, fertility treatment, bariatric surgery, or even organ transplant. Other treatments being marketed are laser eye surgery, cardiac surgery, and diagnostics.

For Aussies some of the most popular countries for medical tourism are Thailand, India, South Korea, and South East Asia in general.

"The medical profession has concerns in relation to people traveling overseas for some medical treatments."

The medical profession has concerns in relation to people traveling overseas for some medical treatments including:

  • medical clinical standards may not be as high as in Australia;
  • regulation of treatment facilities may not be as stringent as here;
  • standards of post-surgical care may be limited;
  • access to high dependency care facilities in a life threatening situation may be limited;
  • continuity of care – your doctor in Australia may have a limited ability to access information about your treatment overseas;
  • costs to the Australian health system when things go wrong once you return home; and
  • spread of pathogens like hepatitis which are more prevalent in some areas of Asia.

In Australia we all expect a certain level of care and information from our doctors but in another culture or country, this may not be the case. If you are considering heading off overseas for medical treatment always research things like:

  • the doctor and other medical providers you will be receiving services from;
  • the hospitals where your procedure will be done;
  • the travel agents/companies you use; and
  • the procedure you are undertaking.

Lastly, always have adequate and appropriate health travel insurance in place, which clearly covers medical treatment overseas and always check for exclusions. If you’re not sure, ask your travel agent for clarification or your insurer before you embark on your trip.

"...your rights and access to a remedy may be more difficult to enforce..."

The legal profession’s concerns in relation to medical tourism are that if something goes wrong in relation to the procedure you had outside Australia, your rights and access to a remedy may be more difficult to enforce or even be non-existent. In addition your private health insurance may not cover the surgery or your repatriation to Australia and if something goes wrong and you are unable to return to work, your access to income protection insurance may be impacted. 


Please note, this Blog is posted in Adelaide, South Australia by Andersons Solicitors. It relates to South Australian legislation. Andersons Solicitors is a medium sized law firm servicing metropolitan Adelaide and regional South Australia across all areas of law for individuals and businesses.


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