Medical Tourism: A New Role for Nursing?

Article excerpt

Abstract

Medical tourism is on the rise; however this healthcare trend raises significant issues related to the safety and appropriateness of care. The purpose of this article is to provide healthcare professionals with a better understanding of the phenomenon of medical tourism. The authors will begin by reviewing the history of medical tourism, noting specific medical tourism destinations, and presenting reasons for this increase in medical tourism. Next they will discuss quality and safety issues associated with medical tourism, provide criteria to assess quality of care in other countries, and address ethical and legal consideration inherent in medical tourism. They will conclude with a consideration of the nursing role in medical tourism.

Citation: Ben-Natan, M., Ben-Sefer, E., Ehrenfeld, M., (July 22, 2009) "Medical Tourism: A New Role for Nursing?" OJIN: The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, Vol. 14, No. 3. Available: www.nursingworld.org/MainMenuCategories/ANAMarketplace/ANAPeriodicals/OJIN/TableofContents/Voll42009/No3Sept09/Articles -Previous-Topics/Medical-Tourism.aspx

Key words: accreditation, criteria for selecting medical tourism sites, international healthcare costs, medical tourism, quality of care in medical tourism, nursing role in medical tourism

Medical tourism is on the rise; however this healthcare trend raises significant issues related to the safety and appropriateness of care. Medical tourists travel to undergo executive health evaluations, ophthalmologic care, cosmetic dentistry and oral surgery, joint resurfacing or replacement, cardiac surgery, organ and stem cell transplantation, gender reassignment surgery, and in-vitro fertilization.

Medical tourism has been defined as travel with the express purpose of obtaining health services abroad. Although medical tourism may also be defined as travel for the purpose of delivering healthcare (Bishop & Litch, 2000; Comarow, 2008), this article will focus on medical tourism that seeks to obtain healthcare in another country.

The purpose of this article is to provide healthcare professionals with a better understanding of the phenomenon of medical tourism. The authors will begin by reviewing the history of medical tourism, noting specific medical tourism destinations, and presenting various reasons for this increase in medical tourism. Next they will discuss quality and safety issues associated with medical tourism, provide criteria to assess quality of care in other countries, and address ethical and legal consideration inherent in medical tourism. They will conclude by considering the nursing role in medical tourism.

History of Medical Tourism

Medical tourism is not a new phenomenon. Even in ancient times, people traveled to other countries for health-related purposes (Bookman & Bookman, 2007; Horowitz, Rosensweig, & Jones, 2007). The ancient Greeks and Egyptians went to hot springs and baths to improve their health. The first recorded case of medical tourism describes Greek pilgrims who traveled from the Mediterranean Sea to Epidaurus, a small territory in the Sardonic Gulf. It was said that this small territory was the sanctuary of Asclepius, known as the healing god. Since the 1500s India has enjoyed a rich history of providing yoga instruction as well as Ayurvedic healing to patients from around the world. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Europeans and Americans flocked to health spas and sanitariums, sometimes in remote places, in the hope that they would obtain relief from their disabling conditions, such as tuberculosis, gout, bronchitis, or liver diseases. Especially in Europe, well-to-do people, over the years, have traveled to spas to "take the waters" for various cures. In summary, historical accounts abound with reports of those who have traveled to seek improvement for their health.

However, traveling forthe purpose of receiving treatments, such as dental surgery, cosmetic surgery, and other complex procedures is a relatively new phenomenon, having begun only in the 1980s (Horowitz & Rosensweiq, 2007; Smith & Puczko, 2008). …