Friday, October 23, 2015

International Health Law: Legal and Ethical Issues of Medical Travel

Medical Tourism PanelThe American Bar Association Section of International Law is wrapping up an exciting week of programs and events at its Fall Meeting in Montreal.

One of the afternoon panels on Friday was on the subject of medical travel, considering the legal issues that arise when patients travel across borders to seek medical care. Each year, an increasing number of individuals travel outside their home countries for a variety of healthcare treatments ranging from dental care, cosmetic surgery, sex-change operations, cancer treatments, and other procedures that are either not available in their home jurisdictions or that are available at much cheaper prices abroad.

International healthcare consumers are challenging healthcare providers, governments, and other service providers to deliver high-quality, cost-effective medical care in a safe environment. As patients travel across borders, they expose a number of legal, medical, and ethical issues. The panel discussed some of these emerging issues relating to medical travel. Speaking on the panel (pictured, from left to right) were Maureen Bennett (Jones Day, Boston), Stephen M. Weiner (Chair of the Health Law Practice Group at Mintz Levin, Boston), and Elizabeth Ziemba (President of Medical Tourism Training, Inc., Newport, Rhode Island).

Some particular points of interest from the panel:

  • Some patients travel for lower-cost treatments while others travel to obtain treatments not available in their home country, including treatments not approved by licensing agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration.
  • Medical malpractice is a civil action in the United States but in other countries (such as Mexico and the United Arab Emirates) it is a criminal action.
  • To reduce risks in medical travel, the facilitators who arrange for medical travel must know about health care (and not just how to make travel arrangements) and clearly communicate with patients the scope of services that the facilitator will be providing. The patient should acknowledge the limits on what is being provided, that medical records are correct, and that if problems arise the patient may need to sue in the foreign jurisdiction rather than in the patient's home jurisdiction.
  • Facilitators should suggest more than one health care provider to ensure that providers can provide high-quality care. Suggesting more than one provider also allows facilitators to avoid endorsing a particular health care providers.

The program is being filmed and will be available on Periscope.

Mark E. Wojcik (mew)

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