Med­i­cal tourism can leave you in stitches

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Asia - MERRY KIRK­WOOD

AC­CORD­ING to a new re­port, Aus­tralians are in­creas­ingly seek­ing health-re­lated treat­ments over­seas, in­clud­ing eye surgery, den­tal work and fer­til­ity pro­ce­dures.

The study, by the Lon­don­based Econ­o­mist In­tel­li­gence Unit, which con­sid­ers world­wide busi­ness trends, looks at the po­ten­tial of med­i­cal tourism in 60 coun­tries.

Ac­cord­ing to re­port editor Ana Ni­cholls, we travel to Asia, in par­tic­u­lar, for treat­ments be­cause of the ‘‘lower cost, and to beat grow­ing wait­ing lists for elec­tive surgery’’. She says med­i­cal tourism in the re­gion is pre­dicted to grow by 16 per cent per an­num in com­ing years. Gov­ern­ments in ad­vanced as well as de­vel­op­ing coun­tries recog­nise the lu­cra­tive eco­nomic im­pact of med­i­cal tourism but a dearth of sta­tis­tics on the fre­quency, na­ture and suc­cess rates of pa­tient ex­pe­ri­ences makes it dif­fi­cult to weigh up the real ben­e­fits and risks, such as the re­cently re­ported spread of a post-sur­gi­cal superbug in In­dia.

None­the­less, those un­able to af­ford pri­vate health care or the spi­ralling gap for com­plex pro­ce­dures in Aus­tralia un­dergo, say, liver trans­plants in Sin­ga­pore, stem-cell ther­apy in China and cos­metic surgery in Thai­land, where 80 per cent of such pa­tients are from over­seas, ac­cord­ing to the EIU.

The Aus­tralian Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion and Aus­tralian Den­tal As­so­ci­a­tion cau­tion against this type of travel. The AMA’S fed­eral pres­i­dent, Steve Ham­ble­ton, says prospec­tive pa­tients need to con­sider ‘‘the reg­u­la­tory sys­tems in the desti­na­tion’’ and ‘‘the cre­den­tials of the sur­geon’’. He adds that Aus­tralia has ‘‘one of the best health sys­tems in the world, with ac­cred­ited hos­pi­tals and highly trained sur­geons’’.

ADA pol­icy rec­om­mends we ‘‘should avoid trav­el­ling over­seas for . . . den­tal treat­ment’’ due to time re­stric­tions, pos­si­ble com­mu­ni­ca­tion dif­fi­cul­ties, and is­sues such as lack of in­sur­ance cover, re­course and avail­abil­ity of records.

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