A white minivan carrying four Americans from North Carolina crossed the border into Matamoros, Mexico where they were ambushed by an armed gang. A Mexican bystander was killed along with two of the Americans. The two surviving Americans were held captive until they were later freed by Mexican police. They had traveled 1,500 miles to a Mexican border town for cosmetic surgery.
Traveling to Mexico for medical services is quite common, although most Americans probably know nothing about it. Medical tourism for the purposes of cosmetic surgery is also relatively common.
The Mexican Council for the Medical Tourism Industry estimates that almost one million Americans visit Mexico for healthcare every year. Prior to the pandemic, the health travel advocacy group Patients Beyond Borders gave a similar estimate of about 800,000 to one million American citizens per year, roughly 75 per cent of whom sought dental or cosmetic care.
A friend used to live near the U.S. border town of El Paso. He said many people in the area drove into Mexico for cheaper medicines and services like dental and optical. Years ago I had an eye exam from the Mexican optician he used. In my research on medical tourism I found that many of the medical tourists crossing the border for care were either Mexican expats who knew they could return for cheaper care or people who lived near the border with Mexico. I’ve met some retired people, both Canadian and American (so-called Winter Texans, also known as Snowbirds), who routinely crossed the border for prescription drugs and medical services not covered by Medicare.
“It’s economics,” University of Texas immigration professor Néstor Rodriguez told BBC News. “Medicines and services are cheaper in Mexico, especially dental procedures. You can get your teeth cleaned or an implant for a fraction of the cost of what you get in the US.”
The victims of the attack were likely at the wrong place at the wrong time. Authorities believe they were mistaken for rival drug dealers, although kidnappings for ransom are not unheard of.
Burgess, 54, told ABC News that her daughter had travelled from their home in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina to get a tummy tuck in Mexico, her second such trip. She was joined by her cousin Shaeed Woodard and friends Zindell Brown and Eric Williams.
What happened next is unclear, but a family friend told CNN that the group had got lost and contacted their clinic asking for directions. Not long afterwards, a gunman opened fire on their vehicle, and they were subsequently removed and loaded into a truck by armed men in body armour.
US investigators reportedly believe that gangsters mistook Washington McGee and her friends, who are Black, for Haitian drug smugglers.
It is (relatively) safe to seek care in Mexico if you know where you are going and don’t get lost. That is to say if you know where not to go. Many Americans would likely not fit that description. To alleviate the fear of seeking cross-border care a new 33-floor medical facility called NewCity Medical Plaza was built in Tijuana about a mile and a half from border with San Diego, California.
In Newcity Medical Plaza we offer world-class facilities with professional care, cutting-edge technologies, operational excellence and innovative medical services. All in a One Stop Shop Experience.
We are an innovative project that aims to satisfy all your needs in one single place.
Here you´ll find certified medical professionals, the most advanced equipment in radiology and laboratories, more than 30 medical specialties’, a world-class hospital, the only 5-star wellness hotel in Tijuana, pharmacy, and much more.
All you need to improve your health and wellbeing just 3 minutes away from the San Diego Border.
NewCity Medical Plaza even has a shuttle van that will meet you at the international border crossing and drive patients to the facility.
Costa Rica is often thought of as the closest and safest medical tourist destination for Americans. I have toured hospitals, have met with physicians and even received some medical services there. I previously wrote about getting dental care in San Jose, Costa Rica.
India is the medical tourism destination with the lowest cost and highest quality of countries that cater to medial tourists. One problem Indian providers face is that medial tourists sometimes become disenchanted on their way from the airport to the hospital due to the poverty and squalor they see. I don’t know if it was ever done but I spoke with some consultants who advised providers in India to build a hospital next to the airport.
2 thoughts on “Is Medical Tourism Safe? It Depends!”
Bangkok, Thailand is another popular medical tourist destination.
Medical tourism has been growing for more than 20 years, driven by cost especially (but not entirely) for care not covered by insurance. Such growth has gradually incentivized growth in supply outside of the U.S. and Western Europe. Some of the Gulf States in Western Asia have been made significant investments in medical care.
All of which is enabled by growth of advanced medical technologies, facilities, and trained physicians world-wide.
I’ve done some checking lately and Eastern Europe and Turkey have good prices too.