Medical tourism: A faraway health fix

SMU Law Professor Nathan Cortez talks about medical tourism.

By Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz
Tribune Newspapers
When Stan Long's doctor told him he needed prostate surgery, the unpleasant procedure bothered him less than the part of the price tag he'd be on the hook for: $15,000 for the hospital stay his Medicare plan didn't cover.

So Long, who lives in Washington state, followed the lead of a friend who had been going to Mexico for inexpensive dental work, and headed south for a better deal. . .

The American College of Surgeons in 2009 issued a statement warning of the risks of seeking medical care abroad, including the variability in the training of health professionals, difficulties of being treated far from friends and family, and language and cultural barriers hindering communication.

Patients also have little recourse if something goes wrong, as they usually sign contracts leaving themselves to bear most of the legal risks, said Nathan Cortez, assistant professor of law at Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law.

There haven't been any high-profile lawsuits filed by patients hurt in medical tourism, but Cortez said that's likely because the industry settles complaints quietly. There's no good data on how many patients have experienced problems or in which countries, he said.

"Everyone in the industry operates in this legal and regulatory void," Cortez said.

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