When it comes to surgery, there’s no denying that costs in Australia can be high. For some, the only way they can afford treatment is to travel overseas, although it doesn’t come without its risks.
Also known as medical tourism, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) notes Australians are heading overseas for dental procedures, cosmetic surgery and even heart operations, while orthopaedic, IVF and stem-cell therapies have gained population in recent times.
However, the government warns that some procedures aren’t currently approved in Australia and that patients undergoing surgery overseas may not be receiving the same standard of care as they would in Australia.
“Health standards in some countries, including training of doctors and nurses, infection rates and rates of complications are not as good as in Australia,” the DFAT’s website states. “The emergence of antibiotic resistant bacteria in many overseas hospitals is of concern, as infections may not be treatable.”
While most people have probably heard of botched surgeries and horror stories from overseas medical trips, it hasn’t stopped people from heading abroad for surgery. New research by WorldFirst has found at least 15,000 Aussies travel overseas for cosmetic surgery each year, spending a total of $300 million annually. Thailand and Malaysia are the most popular destinations, while Baby Boomers are also heading overseas in droves for surgery.
WorldFirst Head of Foreign Exchange Patrick Liddy tells Starts at 60 over-60s were opting for overseas surgeries to save money. Still, many of the clients he sees had done their research and found reputable health professionals overseas.
“Sixty-four per cent of over-50s would consider travelling overseas for dental work,” Liddy explains. “Twenty-six per cent would undergo cancer treatment overseas and 23 per cent would consider travelling overseas for plastic surgery.”
Of the 1,000 participants in the research, 17 per cent said they would consider travelling overseas for eye surgery, 14 per cent would consider having surgery on vital organs such as the heart and liver, while 12 per cent would consider undergoing organ transplants aboard. Still, just seven per cent of people aged between 60 and 69 said they would go overseas for organ treatments.
“We put it down to the older generation being more risk-averse and having more life experience,” Liddy explains. “They were more content to pay a higher premium for the safety and security of surgery in Australia, falling under Australian guidelines and regulations.”
Health risks aside, Australians also need to be aware that although overseas surgery may seem cheaper upfront, factors such as insurance and fluctuating exchange rates can impact the amount a person ends up paying for treatment or surgery. For example, the American dollar has fallen nearly 10 per cent since the start of the year, meaning a patient could end up paying a lot more when it comes time for paying for a surgery.
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“Just be aware there are other costs involved, do your research about what those costs are and reach out to someone like WorldFirst finance specialists if there is something you need to ask,” Liddy suggests.
Being covered under the right travel insurance could also prove vital if something does go wrong with your procedure overseas.
“If you’re going overseas for surgery and something does go wrong, you want to make sure you’re not coming home with even larger medical expenses than you pre-empted before leaving the country,” Liddy notes.
Thankfully, all 1,000 participants of the survey would do their research and find medical teams they were confident in – something Liddy can’t stress enough.
“The key element is just to do your research. Once clients are happy that who they’re going to see is legitimate, everything else seems to fall into place,” he says. “Do your research not on the medical team, but all the medical expenses as well.”