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Can I Sue for International Medical Malpractice?

Health care in the United States is expensive. Medical treatments in the U.S. can be much more expensive than in other countries. Lower cost medical care is not necessarily lower quality. Some patients travel overseas to get top-tier medical care at half the rates the treatment would be in America. Even with insurance, medical tourism is an attractive proposition for Americans seeking out medical care and looking to save money. 

Health care in another country may not be better or worse than in the U.S. However, when things do go wrong, international medical malpractice may be more complicated. A foreign doctor may not be considered to be negligent in American courts. The medical malpractice laws of another country may be more restrictive and not allow an injury victim to recover full compensation. 

In some cases, negligent medical care by a foreign doctor may be eligible for compensation in a U.S. court. To understand your rights and legal options after international medical malpractice, talk to an experienced medical malpractice team. Contact our office today online or by phone at 800-529-6162.  

Medical Tourism for Americans

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “traveling to another country to get medical care can be risky. Learn about the risks and how to minimize them.” However, for some patients, overseas treatment may be the only way to get the procedures at a cost they can afford. Millions of medical tourists from the U.S. travel to other countries for care. 

Reasons for going to Mexico, Canada, Central America, South America, or the Caribbean for health care may include cost, culture, or unavailable procedures. There may be new or experimental treatment or therapy that is not approved for medical use in the U.S. that is available in another country. 

Medical care overseas can be as good or even better than care a patient would receive in a U.S. hospital or clinic. However, there are challenges involved in going to another country for care. According to the CDC, risks of complications include: 

  • Infectious disease
  • Antibiotic resistance
  • Quality of care
  • Communication challenges
  • Air travel
  • Continuity of care

The Department of State offers advice for U.S. citizens traveling abroad for medical care. Before seeking surgery, cosmetic surgery, or dental care overseas, travelers should: 

  • “Verify the doctor’s training, qualifications, and reputation. 
  • Check the country information for more information about medical tourism in the country you are visiting.” 

Aside from just the costs of care, there can be other reasons that make medical tourism a popular option. Many immigrants may feel more comfortable getting care in their home country, in their native language, where they have a larger network of family members and caretakers. 

Some overseas patients enjoy the luxury and privacy of overseas care, where they can receive care and recovery in a spa-like setting, and where they can enjoy a vacation before or after the surgery. Even some insurance providers are incentivizing medical tourism for U.S. patients, because both the patient and the insurance company can benefit from lower costs.  

Top International Destinations For U.S. Medical Tourism

There are many popular destinations for medical tourism. For most Americans, the country they go to for medical procedures will be based on several factors, including: 

  • Proximity
  • Cost
  • Reputation
  • Access to care
  • Type of procedure

The most popular country for medical tourism from the U.S. is Mexico. Mexico is already a popular tourist destination. Many medical and clinical services are offered just a short distance from the border, including large cities like Tijuana, Juarez, and Nuevo Laredo. Many patients go to Mexico to get dental care, prescriptions, and cosmetic surgery. 

According to the Medical Tourism Magazine, the top 10 medical tourism destinations in the world are: 

  1. Canada
  2. Singapore
  3. Japan
  4. Spain
  5. United Kingdom
  6. Dubai
  7. Costa Rica
  8. Israel
  9. Abu Dhabi
  10. India

There are other popular medical tourism destinations, including Hungary, where foreigners travel for dental and cosmetic surgery. The cost of care is about 40% to 50% of care in the U.S. Hungary is more popular for medical tourists from Europe, including the UK, Germany, and Scandinavia. An EU study found dental procedures and treatments in Hungary to be the most affordable among member nations. 

Malaysia is a destination for cosmetic surgery and alternative medicine, where care can be about 25% of care in the U.S. Many of these countries have medical tourism government offices that promote medical tourism and help facilitate prospective patients, even providing information on travel companions, nurses, paramedics, and travel nannies.

Patients Beyond Borders, which provides information for medical tourism, released their top 10 cities for medical tourism in 2020. Those cities included: 

  1. Bangkok, Thailand (specializing in cosmetic surgery and restorative dentistry)
  2. Budapest, Hungary (specializing in dentistry)
  3. Cancun, Mexico (specializing in dentistry, cosmetic surgery, weight loss surgery, and pharma travel)
  4. Escazu, Costa Rica (specializing in dentistry, cosmetic surgery, bariatrics)
  5. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (specializing in orthopedics and traditional Chinese medicine)
  6. Mumbai, India (specializing in orthopedics and cardiology)
  7. Seoul, South Korea (specializing in cosmetic surgery and aesthetic treatments)
  8. Bali, Indonesia (specializing in dentistry, health check-ups, and screenings)
  9. Istanbul, Turkey (specializing in eye care, dentistry, and hair transplants)
  10. Barcelona, Spain (specializing in ophthalmology, dentistry, cosmetic surgery, orthopedics, fertility/IVF, and pediatrics)

Medical Procedures in Other Countries

Medical tourism can involve just about any non-emergency procedure, including dental care, cosmetic surgery, alternative medicine, and cancer treatment. According to the CDC, some of the most common procedures for medical tourism include: 

  • Dental care
  • Surgery (such as orthopedic surgery)
  • Cosmetic surgery
  • Fertility treatment
  • Organ transplant
  • Cancer treatment

According to a New York Times article, the coronavirus pandemic may result in increased  demand for medical tourism. During COVID-19, many non-emergency procedures were put off or canceled. There are many patients who are seeking medical treatment but are having a difficult time booking the surgery because of the pent-up demand. Many other people may have lost their insurance coverage during the pandemic, making less-expensive medical care abroad much more enticing. 

Cosmetic Surgery Across the Border

Elective plastic surgery and cosmetic surgery are often not covered by health insurance. When Americans want cosmetic surgery they either have to pay the high cost for treatment in the U.S. or seek cosmetic surgery overseas. Cosmetic procedures may also not be non-urgent and patients can schedule the procedures on their own schedule. This makes cosmetic surgery an attractive option for traveling for care overseas. Cosmetic procedures can be much less expensive in places like Mexico, Costa Rica, and Brazil.

According to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ISAPS), the top 5 surgical procedures worldwide were: 

  1. Breast Augmentation
  2. Liposuction
  3. Eyelid Surgery
  4. Abdominoplasty
  5. Rhinoplasty

Cosmetic surgery in other countries is not just for medical tourism. Cosmetic surgery is very popular in a number of countries. Brazil has more cosmetic surgery total than any other country, with almost 1.5 million total surgical procedures in 2018. Other countries with large numbers of cosmetic surgical procedures can include both local and foreign patients, including: 

  • Mexico: 518,046 
  • Germany: 385,906
  • India: 390,793
  • Italy: 311,456
  • Argentina: 280,555
  • Colombia: 273,316
  • Thailand: 105,105
  • Australia: 102,404

According to one medical tourism website, the cost for breast augmentation can be high in the U.S., averaging about $6,400. However, treatment in other countries can be less than half of what it is in the U.S., including: 

  • Brazil: $4,800
  • Poland: $4,000
  • South Korea: $3,600
  • Mexico: $2,800
  • India: $1,500

Patients need to consider more than just cost when it comes to elective surgical procedures. Cosmetic surgery always carries some risk of danger, including infection, surgical errors, and anesthesia errors. Make sure you talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of the surgery before agreeing to undergo surgery.

Medical Standards in Other Countries

There are general practices and procedures that are similar in most places around the world but medical standards may vary based on country and culture. For example, there may be differences in the clinical use of anesthesia between the U.S. and Europe. Non-physician anesthesiology may be more common in Europe where anesthesiology in the U.S. more often uses advanced practice providers, including physicians assistants and nurse anesthetists. The use of opiates and painkillers may also be very different in the U.S. compared to other countries. 

In a medical malpractice case in the U.S., medical standards are important because they provide the basis for the jury to determine whether or not the doctor deviated from standard care in causing the injury. This requires a medical expert with the experience, education, and training to say what a reasonable doctor would have done under similar circumstances. The standards of care may be much different in another country and U.S.-based doctors may not have a clear understanding of health care practices in Turkey, Hungary, or Colombia. 

Before undergoing any medical treatment, in any country, it is important to have an understanding of the procedures to be performed. In the U.S., this is known as having informed consent. A doctor needs to have the informed consent of the patient, with the patient being given the necessary and relevant information about the procedure, including: 

  • Risks
  • Benefits
  • Side effects
  • Possible complications
  • Reasonable alternatives
  • Consequences of declining care

Make sure you have a clear understanding of the risks and benefits of any surgical procedure before going under the knife. If something goes wrong that was not indicated as a possible risk of the procedure, you may have a claim against the doctor or hospital for failure to obtain informed consent

Can You File a Medical Malpractice Claim in Another Country?

Every country has its own laws and regulations regarding medical malpractice. In the United States, medical malpractice has a long history in the law and there are state-specific laws and regulations involving standards of proof, limits on damages, and filing requirements. However, the laws may be very different in other countries. 

In some countries, medical malpractice is not treated as a civil matter but is tried in criminal court. When a medical error results in serious injury or death, in countries like China, the doctor could face imprisonment. 

In countries like Canada, Australia, and the UK, the medical malpractice laws may look more similar to what they are in the U.S., as the legal systems come from a similar background. However, like in almost all other developed countries, the healthcare system is public instead of private. This can impact the damages available because out-of-pocket medical expenses may be much lower. 

To understand whether you can file a medical malpractice claim in another country, you may have to talk to an international lawyer about your legal rights and options in the country involved. In some cases, you may be able to file a claim in more than one country. Talk to a U.S.-based medical malpractice lawyer to understand whether you can file a lawsuit in the U.S. or need to consult with an international attorney.  

Is the Foreign Doctor Liable in Court in the United States?

A court has to have “jurisdiction” over a case before it can hear the case and decide an outcome. Jurisdiction is the lawful authority of a court to adjudicate a case. Jurisdiction for overseas events can be complicated. Jurisdiction may involve whether there is personal jurisdiction over the subject matter and where there is personal jurisdiction involving the individual defendants. 

For example, if a doctor in Thailand was treating a medical patient from Chicago, and the patient later suffered an adverse reaction, why would the Thai doctor be liable in an Illinois court? The patient may only be able to file a medical malpractice claim against the Thai doctor if the doctor had some connection to the United States. If the doctor also had a clinic in Florida or if the doctor advertised medical care in a Chicago newspaper, that may be considered enough for a court to have jurisdiction over the doctor. 

Getting Help With an International Medical Malpractice Claim

If you are not sure who is responsible for your medical injury or want help with filing a medical malpractice lawsuit against an overseas doctor, contact an experienced medical malpractice law firm to understand your options. Your attorney can review your case and let you know about how you can recover compensation for medical bills, loss of income, and other damages. Contact Gilman & Bedigian online or at 800-529-6162 for a free consultation.

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