Receiving medical care outside Canada
Travellers from Canada may access medical care in other countries due to a medical emergency as a result of an injury or illness. However, they may also travel to receive specific medical care, known as “medical tourism.”
Some people choose to go to other countries for reasons such as:
- organ transplants
- dental procedures
- neurologic therapies
- fertility and cancer treatments
- cosmetic, orthopedic and bariatric surgeries
They may be seeking:
- lower costs for treatment
- quicker access to medical service
- medical care not available in Canada
The term for this is “medical tourism.”
On this page
- Health risks of medical tourism
- Financial risks of medical tourism
- Warning signs related to treatment abroad
- Before you go outside Canada for medical treatment
- Returning home from medical treatment abroad
Health risks of medical tourism
All surgical procedures involve some degree of risk and these risks may be higher in hospitals outside Canada. Medical practices, health standards and infection control measures may be different abroad. This could result in lower quality medical care.
- hospital accreditation standards may differ or not be as strict as in Canada
- licensing standards may also differ for:
- infection prevention and control in medical facilities may not be regulated enough to ensure patient safety
- bacterial infections resistant to antibiotic treatment are a global problem, and may be acquired in health care facilities abroad
- serious illness or complications arising from medical care received abroad have been reported, including infections with multidrug resistant bacteria that are difficult to treat
- standards for regulating drugs may be different than those in Canada and, as a result medication may be:
- of poor quality
- counterfeit in some countries
- standards for screening blood products or sterilizing medical equipment may be different to those in Canada, exposing you to increased risk of:
- hepatitis B
- hepatitis C
- language barriers can lead to misunderstandings about your medical care
- you may be pressed into procedures you do not fully understand or consent to if something goes wrong, your options for legal action may be limited
- flying too soon after surgery may increase your risk of blood clots, including:
- deep vein thrombosis (blood clots in the legs)
- pulmonary embolism (blood clots in the lungs)
Financial risks of medical tourism
If you are seeking treatment outside the country to save money, complications or unplanned aftercare could result in greater costs than having the same procedure in Canada.
- Your provincial/territorial health plan may not cover expenses if you develop complications in the country where you are having the procedure.
- Most travel insurance policies will not cover planned medical procedures abroad.
Warning signs to consider related to treatment abroad
Remember that medical tourism is at your own risk, so beware of:
- people pressuring you into making a quick decision
- prices or claims of success that seem too good to be true
- companies selling packages that include a holiday in addition to treatment
- little available information about the health care professional (or provider), or no opportunity to consult them before treatment
Before you go outside Canada for medical treatment
Discuss your plans with your main health care professional in Canada, before booking your travel or procedure. Consider their advice before making any decisions about having a medical procedure abroad. Make sure:
- you are healthy enough to travel
- your routine immunizations are up-to-date
- any ongoing medical conditions are well controlled
- you have enough of any medication needed for the length of the trip
Also discuss the:
- need for follow-up on your return
- risk of airline travel after the procedure
You should also:
- consult a travel medicine clinic for a pre-travel health assessment at least 6 weeks before travelling abroad
- learn about the health risks in the country you plan to visit
- receive any required or recommended vaccinations based on your proposed travel activities and the local conditions where you are going
Prepare ahead of time
In addition, consult with the health care professional who will be carrying out your procedure abroad. Review the specific risks related to your treatment and travel plans.
Check the credentials of anyone who will be providing medical care for you.
Thoroughly research the facility where your procedure will be performed.
If you are considering a procedure that is not offered in Canada, look into why it is not offered.
If you still choose to go:
- buy comprehensive health insurance that covers medical procedures in other countries
- get written agreements with the health care professional and/or group arranging your trip, outlining what treatment, supplies and care are covered by the fees you are paying
- find out what legal rights you have if something goes wrong
- carefully calculate all costs, including for contingency plans
- know how you will communicate with those who are providing your care, if you go to a country where you don’t speak the language
- take copies of your medical records including:
- known allergies
- pre-existing conditions
- information about all the medications you take, including their
- brand name
- generic name
Understand what care you will need after the procedure. Before you leave, make arrangements with your Canadian health care professional for any follow-up care.
Pack essential items in a travel health kit.
Returning home from medical treatment abroad
Get copies of all medical records related to your procedure, to bring back to Canada. This documentation will be important if there are complications after returning home.
Review everything with your health care professional when you return, including:
- the results of medical tests
- descriptions of the procedure(s) you had
- information about the medications you received
See your health care professional immediately if you have any signs of infection after you return, such as:
- swelling at a surgical site
Have a medical exam when you return to Canada, if you suffer from a chronic illness and have noticed any changes in your condition. This includes such illnesses as:
- respiratory disease
- cardiovascular disease
If you had injections or blood transfusions abroad, discuss testing for blood-borne infections with your health care professional.
For at least 12 months after returning, tell any health care professional you may consult that you have received medical treatment outside of Canada.
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