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Expert Alert

U of M expert says winter vacations should be for relaxing, not medical care

November 8, 2011

For many, winter signals the need for a vacation to a warmer or milder climate. But today’s global marketplace has introduced a new travel option that is shaping vacation plans for thousands of Americans: medical tourism.

Medical tourism occurs when patients leave their local communities to receive medical care at a foreign hospital or clinic. Patients travel for orthopedic surgery, dental care, IVF and commercial surrogacy, stem cell injections, organ transplants and other procedures.

But should medical tourism be viewed as an all-inclusive approach to successful health care outcomes?

A University of Minnesota expert who can discuss the risks and complications of medical tourism is:

Leigh Turner, associate professor at the Center for Bioethics, School of Public Health and College of Pharmacy

Turner studies medical tourism companies worldwide, and specifically examines the marketing strategies and ethical issues of hospitals trying to attract international patients.

“Medical travel raises many ethical issues, public health concerns and policy challenges,” said Turner. “Finding credible information is a major problem. Many medical tourism companies provide little information about risk, and instead emphasize any benefits associated with going abroad for treatment. A global marketplace for health care doesn’t equate to uniform global health care standards.”

As a result, conflicts of interest arise, challenging basic ethical norms such as providing full disclosure of risks and benefits and ensuring that patients can make informed decisions. Travel abroad can also disrupt continuity of care; for example, a procedure may occur in one country but post-operative treatment must be obtained elsewhere.

Some patients return home with serious complications. When this happens, medical tourists often have no legal recourse if negligent care was given. Also, medical travel can contribute to the spread of infectious diseases and drug-resistant bacteria.

Turner’s blog, Health in the Global Village, provides regular updates on medical travel and globalization of health care. His latest published work, featured in the journal Globalization and Health, is the result of a five-year study of Canada’s medical tourism industry.

To schedule an interview with Turner, contact Emily Jensen, (612) 624-9163, jense888@umn.edu, or Justin Paquette, (612) 626-7037, jpaquett@umn.edu.

Expert Alert is a service provided by the University News Service. Delivered regularly, Expert Alert is designed to connect university experts to today's breaking news and current events. For an archive and other useful media services, visit www.unews.umn.edu. Views expressed by experts do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Minnesota.

Tags: Academic Health Center

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