The Pros and Cons of Medical Tourism

A growing trend in the knee replacement field (and, for that matter, most joint-related procedures) has been patients seeking treatment outside of the U.S. If you poll most of those folks (I informally do), they’d rather not go through the trouble of finding a reputable hospital/doctor abroad, fly for a good 10+ hours, then recover well enough to head back home.

Fact is, though, cost drives the decision. If they don’t have insurance (or the procedure is deemed elective, thus not covered), there aren’t a ton of domestic options left…save a county hospital, and who wants to take that kind of risk with their knees?

What You’ll Pay Abroad

Prices tend to vary from country to country (even city-wide) but, in general, knee replacement runs anywhere from a third to half of what you’ll pay in the states. On average, India tends to be the least expensive with Singapore the priciest. Seasonal and first-time discounts are always in play so be sure to do plenty of comparison shopping before confirming an appointment.

CountryPrice range (estimated)
Total ReplacementPartial Replacement
U.S.$35,000$17,000
Singapore$17,000$9,000
Thailand$15,000$7,000
Costa Rica$12,000$6,000
Mexico$9,000$5,000
India$7,000$4,000
 more about total vs partial replacement

The Advantages of Medical Tourism

Is medical tourism right for you?

  • Most obviously, cost. If you’re paying out of pocket, knee surgery is basically the price of a new car (but muuuch harder to finance :). Unfortunately, most folks spend many more hours researching a new vehicle than they do finding an international hospital. It’s your health and body, don’t ever take it for granted!
  • Accredited Doctors – over the past decade, more and more surgeons born abroad are traveling to the U.S. (and Europe) for their medical training, either for the full 8+ years or an orthopedic/knee specialty. As a result, most hospitals abroad have a healthy staff of globally-accredited surgeons. Again, during the research phase, you’ll definitely want to ask the name of your lead surgeon so you can read up on their training and education. Don’t be afraid to ask to speak to the surgeon as well. It’s important you get a good feel for him/her before you commit. The psychological is just as important as the physical.
  • Less volume, better attention – we all know the wrap on a lot of U.S.-based hospitals is overcrowding. That means the doctor to patient ratio is pretty low. In most places, nursing staffs are at a bare minimum as well, so the end result is less personal care, especially after surgery. Overseas, you’re almost inundated with attention.

The Disadvantages of Medical Tourism

  • Foreign Land. Foreign Rules – whenever you travel outside of the protection of the Unites States’ medical system, you’re assuming risk. There’s no AMA and if something should go wrong, malpractice suits simply don’t carry the same weight (and objectiveness).
  • Patchwork Medical History – medically, no one knows you better than your primary doctor and, during diagnosis, your Orthopedist. You have years and years of medical records on file. Now, those records do get sent to your doctor abroad but there’s no way your entire history is sent. If you forget about an allergy or other seemingly-unrelated condition and it’s not sent over, it could affect your outcome.
  • Emotional Detachment – this one’s less objective. I’m a big believer that your emotional state plays a big role in your immediate and long-term prognosis. After surgery abroad (especially with total knee replacement), you’ll spend 4-7+ days recovering at a local clinic or hotel. If you’re travelling alone, you’ll have to lean on the internet or the locals (who are usually very friendly) for support. Nothing beats your own bed and loved ones though, so be sure to take the psychological perspective into consideration as well.

In the end…Commit to Your Decision

Most importantly, take plenty of time to weigh all the factors above (and your own). Don’t ever feel rushed to make a health decision, especially one that’ll stick with you like knee surgery.

If medical tourism checks all the right boxes in your life right now and you find a quality hospital and doctor, book your appointment and get ready for surgery. Don’t waiver and worry about the negative (there’s risk in just about anything). There have been a ton of successful procedures performed abroad, it could just be your ticket to individual freedom and mobility.

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