Medical Tourism

by Stephanie Berenbaum – March 18, 2011

Giving a Whole New Meaning to Club Med

Chances are you’ve heard stories about people traveling abroad to receive lower cost medical care.  And while I have read in passing about people leaving the country to get everything from face lifts to liver transplants, I have never thought much of it.  That is, until a friend of mine went to El Salvador to have some major dental work done!

I was immediately intrigued – as someone who has had tons of extremely costly dental work done myself, the idea of a money (and tooth) saving Central American adventure peaked my curiosity.  We’ll be hearing a full, firsthand report after out pal gets back from El Salvador, but in the meantime, here’s a glimpse of the trend at large!

Medical Tourism

As I started looking around online to find out more about this phenomenon, I learned it was generally referred to as, “Medical Tourism”.  And while this somewhat soothing name may conjure up images of you lying on a beach waiting for your eye lift to heal, leaving the country for a medical procedure – any medical procedure – is serious stuff and should not be taken lightly. But for the un- or under – insured, you can see why people would be looking into what may seem like a drastic measure …

Major Discounts on Major Surgeries

So, just how much cheaper are these procedures when done abroad? According to the website, “as a rule, you will save 50-80% of the procedure cost in the U.S.”  In other words – the savings can be substantial!  Of course pricing varies depending on where you live, which country you go to, and the surgery itself, but as a general range, the MedRetreat site offers the following price comparisons:

  • A spinal fusion costing $80-100K in the USA will cost between $6-10K abroad.
  • Hip Replacement in the USA costs between $40-65K, compared with $7-13K abroad.
  • A face and neck lift runs $8-15K in USA, compared to $2,500-4K abroad.

Doctor Who?

The price may be right — but you of course want to make sure you are seeing an accredited, licensed medical practitioner! I spoke with Janet Kwan, R.N. and case manager at California based World Med Assist., and Patrick Marsek, Managing Director of Illinois based, to see just how they go about finding the doctors they recommend. They both explained that the first step in finding the absolute best doctors in the world- literally - is that they personally visit all the doctors and hospitals they recommend – and are extremely picky about their partnerships.


It seems the benchmark accreditation in the medical tourism industry is called “JCI”, which stands for Joint Commission International.  The professionals I spoke with, all pointed to JCI accredation as a standard they look for when approving hospitals and doctors for their clients. You can visit the JCI website to learn more about their standards and their role in international medical travel.

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