What the Would-Be Medical Tourist Needs To Know
Medical tourism is becoming more and more popular, especially for treatments that are considered voluntary or cosmetic and are not usually covered by NHS funding or private medical insurance in the UK. Laser eye surgery for vision problems that can be adequately corrected with glasses and contact lenses is one such surgery that is gaining popularity with Britons who are attracted by the lower prices and sunny climates overseas. But is getting laser eye surgery abroad a good idea? It’s important to take many different factors into account before making a final decision.
Cost Of Surgeries
One of the biggest myths surrounding laser eye surgery, and other surgeries, carried out abroad is that the costs are always cheaper. However, this isn’t necessarily the case. In fact, a survey conducted by Treatment Abroad found that many countries charge higher fees than the UK, particularly Belgium, Cyprus and Norway (which is known for its high cost of living) and patients could find themselves paying up to 115 percent more for laser eye surgery than they would back home.
However, there are countries that can and do offer very cost effective laser eye surgery, with India, Venezuela and Thailand being some of the most preferred options. For those looking to have treatment a bit closer to home, Turkey, Tunisia and Hungary are popular choices, where patients can save roughly 21 percent, 25 percent and 54 percent respectively off the average £1,000 per eye UK price. Although a lower cost of living in these countries is partly responsible for the lower surgical fees, patients do need to consider if the prices are also demonstrative of the lesser qualifications of the surgeons compared to those who have trained in the UK and are registered with UK professional bodies.
Additional Costs To Consider
As well as the costs of the surgery itself, there are other costs to take into account which could counteract any saving made from the surgery itself. The cost of flights and accommodation are aspects to consider, as well as any loss of earnings from taking time off work. Although laser eye surgery is a very quick procedure, often done on a day patient basis, patients are typically advised not to fly for at least one week after the surgery, and in some cases, it is recommended that the patient should reside in the country for six months after the operation in case of complications and in order to attend post operative checks.
Some clinics abroad do have strong links with clinics in the UK, and can arrange for checks to be completed back home, but in cases where a clinic does not offer this arrangement, there are additional costs for the patient who will either be required to pay for accommodation for the six month period, or pay for flights back to the country to be checked by the clinic on a regular basis to ensure the eyes are healing in the correct manner.
Travel insurance could also be an unexpected additional cost for medical tourists. While many travellers believe that their regular travel insurance will cover the cost of any health related problems that arise whilst abroad, this is not the case for those who specifically travel abroad for surgery. If complications do arise from the surgery, those who have not specified that they were travelling for medical purposes will not be entitled to financial assistance in the event of fraud and it is very unlikely that regular travel insurance will cover medical tourism. As the popularity of medical tourism is increasing, some companies do now offer specialist insurance for this purpose, but it is often much more costly because of the increased risks.
Although it is not always the case, some countries do have lower standards and fewer regulations in terms of healthcare than here in the UK. This means that surgeons approved to perform laser eye surgery in foreign clinics may not be as well trained or experienced than those registered with UK bodies. This is bad news for laser eye surgery patients, as studies have shown a direct link between the combined experience of surgeons at a clinic and the successful outcomes of LASIK treatment.
Although over and under-correction, as well as epithelial in-growth, are quite common complaints following laser eye surgery, even in surgeries carried out in the UK, it is believed that these complications are more prevalent abroad, with an estimated four out of five cases of epithelial in-growth referred from foreign clinics. Additionally, more significant complications such as corneal ectasia, and dislocation of the flap during LASIK surgery, have been found to be more prevalent in surgeries carried out abroad.
Dealing With Complications
If complications do arise from the surgery, they can be much more difficult to resolve when abroad than when in the UK. Different terms and conditions regarding aftercare need to be taken into account, along with the language barrier which can make communicating the problem difficult. Additionally, problems are typically just harder to deal with emotionally when away from home and familiar surroundings where friends and family can often lend their help and support. For this reason, it may be worth taking a friend or relative along if considering undergoing medical treatment in an unfamiliar country.
Those considering having laser eye surgery abroad may find it interesting to discover that those who have already done so regularly report that their overall experience was very different to what they imagined it would be, with the reliability and empathy of the surgical team cited as one of the primary reasons for feeling a bit disheartened and disappointed. Getting laser eye surgery abroad is certainly not a decision to take lightly, and it’s important for patients to do their own research to determine if this is the right choice for them.