There are currently no regulations in place to protect people who travel abroad for medical treatment. A proposal to the United Nations has requested a global treaty to cover patients who experience medical malpractice abroad.
James R. Goldberg, author and medical tourism expert, has called for the development of an international treaty to govern the growing medical tourism business. With increasing numbers of people travelling across borders for treatment many are unaware of the legal implications should something go wrong.
Currently the Joint Commission on Healthcare Accreditation (JC) awards accreditation to medical facilities abroad. Potential medical tourists can then judge whether a hospital meets acceptable standards by, among other things, checking for JC accreditation.
Goldberg argues this system is meaningless as the JC essentially sells its accreditations and guidelines to hospitals. It doesn’t enforce the policies or hold accredited institutions accountable for their actions.
If a patient is a victim of medical malpractice they are currently entitled to file a medical malpractice claim and legally sue their healthcare professional. This is why, in the U.S., doctors are forced to purchase medical malpractice insurance to cover themselves in this situation. Popular medical tourism destinations may not have such legislation in place, making it harder for patients to legally pursue a case.
How common is malpractice in medical tourism?
Malpractice can be very common when people travel abroad into different legal jurisdictions. The following are examples of common medical tourism malpractice situations:
- Doctors practicing abroad – There is limited cooperation across international borders regarding sharing information on medical practitioners’ history. This means doctors can move abroad and treat patients in places they are not licenced.
- Lack of legal help for patients – If an error does occur in the form of negligence or malpractice, the patient has the right to compensation. This can be monetary or a correction of the error made. However, the various legal systems in different countries can make receiving justice difficult.
- No transparency – Because a large amount of patient-doctor communication takes place while in separate countries, it provides opportunity for physicians to be unethical. The patient may receive false information regarding treatment and the procedure.
- Unethical practices – Foreign patients are at risk from unscrupulous practices. Some examples are overcharging a foreigner, not providing translated documentation, and not offering enough pre or post-operative care.
While medical malpractice is a risk anywhere in the world, when patients cross national borders it can be harder to fight. Guidelines need to be enforced to ensure the protection of patients and physicians alike. With the advent of an international governing body, as James Goldberg is requesting, medical tourism can continue to grow safely.