When Medical Tourism Goes Wrong, Travel Agents May Have to Pay

Thousands of Americans across the country go around the world every year for medical reasons. Medical tourism has saved the lives of countless people and has helped many individuals overcome some of the pitfalls of the American health care system. However, there is plenty that can and will go wrong.

The fear of liability is one of the main reasons travel agents tend to steer clear of medical tourism. Medical travel can be lucrative for a travel agent, but in the end, if you are sued, it may not be worth it. Keep reading to learn more about the potential liability issues you may face if you book this kind of trip.

What Is Medical Tourism?

Medical tourism is the act of travelling to another country in order to receive medical services. There are many reasons why a person may travel for a surgery, prescription drug, or particular therapy.

Some therapies or surgeries are only authorized in particular countries. They may be so new that they are effective but have not yet gone through the extensive review required for clearance by the FDA. There is also the strong possibility that a reputable doctor can perform a surgery or prescribe a medicine in another country for much less than they can in the United States.

These doctors may receive enough money from their country’s nationalized health service to offer procedures at a discount. In the United States, the private health care model forces many providers to charge exorbitant fees for procedures that insurance will not cover.

Travel Agent Liability

When something goes wrong on a medical tourism trip, there are a number of possible options for liability. One of these is the doctor or medical group who is in charge of the procedure, but it may be difficult if not impossible to file a lawsuit abroad. When this happens, the injured or ill traveler may look to you, the travel agent, to get compensation.

In some countries, the largest medical operators can be tried and sued in order to gain redress for a person’s injury or botched operation. But the vast majority of medical tourism problems do not work this way. There is sometimes no extradition treaty with the United States. Corruption is rampant in some countries as well.

A medical tourist often cannot receive anything from the people who performed the services that were poorly rendered. They may purchase travel insurance just as any other traveler might, but chances are it will specifically exclude medical tourism. Some countries, like Mexico, offer insurance specifically for medical tourism.

Medical tourism can be a source of revenue for some travel agents. The agents collect a significant sum for each premium, and then they will (hopefully) work with reputable medical professionals who will deliver quality service.

When things go wrong, it can be a disaster for the agent because medical tourism may not be covered by your travel agent liability insurance policy. Even if it is, it can make your premiums skyrocket, especially if the injured party has life-disrupting injuries or a fatality is involved.

Your Legal Obligations to the Travelers You Serve

If you choose to handle medical tourism clients, make sure your insurance policy covers this. You’ll also want to make sure you live up to your legal obligations to the consumer. That means:

  • Reveal any negative information you know about their planned destination
  • Be knowledgeable about the destination
  • Inform the traveler about any pertinent information
  • Make any reservations that the traveler requests and confirm them

Most of all, as a travel agent, you’ll need to look into the background of any facilities you recommend and any medical practitioners you work with. If they have any history of malpractice or misconduct, stay away and tell your clients to do the same.

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