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Why Are Tourists Impacted by Medical Malpractice When Travelling?

5 min read
Why Are Tourists Impacted by Medical Malpractice When Travelling?

Medical malpractice can pose a serious threat to the well-being of patients. Whether a mistake is made during a surgical procedure or an incorrect medical treatment is recommended, serious or even fatal harm can occur as a direct result. Tourists in foreign countries are particularly vulnerable to medical malpractice, whether they require emergency treatment for an injury or are seeking out a voluntary procedure.

Anytime that you or a loved one require medical care while travelling, you should make sure you understand the medications or procedure that is recommended. Together with any risks involved, and what the possible outcomes are. In this article, we discuss some of the reasons that may result in a tourist being harmed by medical malpractice. We hope this post helps you enjoy safe, healthy travels for many years to come. 

What is Medical Malpractice?

Medical malpractice occurs when a doctor, nurse, other health care professional, or medical institution directly causes injury to a patient due to an omission or negligent action. A negligent action may occur through incorrect health management, poor treatment, insufficient aftercare, or a diagnostic error. Some common forms of medical malpractice that impact tourists include:

  • Misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose
  • Failure to recognize or treat symptoms
  • Wrong site surgery
  • Insufficient aftercare or follow-up
  • Failure to order testing
  • Misinterpretation of laboratory results
  • Overlooking patient history
  • Incorrect medication dosage or use

In the following sections, we discuss some of the common causes of medical malpractice impacting tourists. 

Visiting a Hospital During the Holidays is Riskier

According to a study put together by CNN, research indicates that visiting a hospital over the weekend or during a holiday period increases a person’s risk of an adverse health outcome. This risk also applies to people travelling to another country for the holidays. Errors may occur because of understaffing, overcrowded emergency rooms, premature discharges, or staff fatigue. 

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People that are travelling or on holiday are also less likely to seek medical care, even if they are dealing with a serious illness or injury. Attempting to “tough out” a serious health condition and foregoing medical attention can have serious consequences. This may delay may reduce the ability of doctors to provide effective care.

Language Barriers May Lead to Miscommunication

Language barriers can pose significant challenges to travellers. If you’re unfamiliar with the local language used in an area you’re visiting, it can be hard to hold a conversation, get directions, or even order food. In addition to making day-to-day life challenging while on holiday, language barriers can be downright dangerous if you or a loved one need emergency medical care. 

If you’re unable to understand what a doctor, nurse, or other medical professional is saying, it can be difficult to understand what treatments, medications, or procedures they are recommending. This can lead to a range of adverse medical outcomes, from accidental medication overdoses to wrong-site surgery. Youman & Caputo LLC notes that a doctor or surgeon who intentionally and knowingly performed an omission or act that could harm the patient has committed medical malpractice. 

However, it can be challenging to prove that an error was intentional with the presence of a language barrier. You should never consent to any medical treatment or procedure that you do not fully understand and agree to. 

Physicians May Be Practicing Outside of Their Country

There is no international law that clearly defines what medical malpractice is or how it may be punished. As such, if you choose to travel to another country to have a procedure done or find yourself requiring care while on holiday, you may encounter subpar facilities or inexperienced medical providers. 

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There are no international laws forbidding doctors from travelling outside their country to consult or treat patients in an area they are not authorized to practice in. Some countries have strict laws protecting patients from medical errors. But others may offer limited or no coverage for patients harmed by dangerous mistakes. Particularly in the context of medical tourism, tragic and avoidable medical errors occur with unfortunate regularity. 

There May Be a Lack of Transparency or Legal Protection

In most cases, you have a chance to develop a good relationship with your regular doctor or care team. You know that you can ask them questions about your treatment or overall health and get an honest answer. If you get injured while travelling and need immediate assistance, you may not have as much time to develop a good rapport with your new medical team. As a result, you may not receive all of the information you need to make an informed decision about your well-being.

A lack of regulations protecting you or a loved one from medical errors can also prove detrimental. Some countries may not have adequate guidelines on the use of experimental treatments, informed consent, or high-risk procedures. Additionally, variations in the legal systems of different countries can make it challenging to file a claim for medical malpractice. Even if a doctor’s error clearly caused your injury. 

Tourists May Fall Prey to Unethical Practices

Tourists can be vulnerable to unethical medical practices while travelling, particularly if they suffer serious harm and have no alternative other than seeking care immediately. Some unethical medical practices that may be weaponized against tourists include:

  • Misuse of medical technology
  • Failure to provide adequate information about a medical procedure or treatment
  • Charging higher rates to foreign patients
  • Providing forms in the local language or refusing to offer a translator

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These are all forms of medical malpractice that can cause a patient to suffer serious physical or financial harm. However, due to variations in legal systems across the world, it can be difficult or even impossible to file a successful claim for compensation. 

Avoiding Medical Malpractice While on Holiday

There are some situations in which you or a loved one will be required to seek medical attention whether you’d like to or not. If you do find yourself in a situation where you need to visit a hospital or doctor’s office, it’s essential to understand exactly what they’re telling you. You should seek the services of a translator if you are unfamiliar with the local language, so you know the details of any recommended treatments and aren’t surprised by a massive medical bill. 

Before going on your trip, you should check to see whether your health insurance covers the cost of medical treatments abroad. If it does not, you may consider purchasing a travel medical insurance plan to cover any unforeseen emergencies. Doing so will protect you from incurring significant medical debt. Request copies of any medical documents or bills you receive during a visit to a doctor’s office or hospital. If you believe you suffered harm due to negligent or unethical medical care, speak to an attorney as soon as possible.

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