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Surgery Abroad: 5 Legal Risks for Medical Tourists

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

Surgery abroad may be the new study abroad, as higher medical costs and insurance payments are driving "medical tourists" to sign up for cost-saving surgical procedures outside the United States.

But before you decide to book your flight to Panama for a cheap appendectomy, keep in mind these five legal risks of getting work done abroad:

1. No FDA Approval.

If you've agreed to go to Argentina to get your hip replaced with one made of a futuristic sounding nano-metal or polymer, think twice about how safe that medical product might be.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) controls all medical devices sold in the United States, and even though their regulation may drive up costs, it also keeps unsafe products off the market and out of your body.

2. Rights to Sue Are Unclear.

Much like the former Miss Argentina 1994, you may face medical complications and even death from your overseas surgery.

In the United States, you may sue a doctor for malpractice if your surgery doesn't go well. But depending on the country where your surgery is taking place, you may not be able to be compensated.

3. Deceptive Advertising Practices.

Both the FDA and the FTC work to combat deceptive and fraudulent advertising when it comes to medical products and procedures.

According to the Center for Disease Control, medical tourists take the risk that the medication they receive in other countries may be counterfeit or of poor quality.

4. Unlicensed Doctors or Unaccredited Facilities.

U.S. doctors and medical practitioners are required by their state to be licensed and accredited. Practicing medicine without a license is illegal.

Licensing requirements are different for each country, and you should check whether your potentially risky surgeon is recognized by an international organization like the Joint Commission International.

5. No Medical Privacy, HIPAA.

Medical professionals and businesses in the United States must comply with HIPAA regulations, which prevent your protected health information from being released to a third party without your permission.

HIPAA may have analogues in other countries, but if their laws are different, your medical history and information may not remain as private as you may want it to be.

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