Medical Tourism: Vacation, Adventure And Surgery?

(CBS) This summer, millions headed out to foreign lands for vacation, adventure, tourism, or just a beautiful beach.

But how about hip surgery or a multiple bypass or a facelift?

A growing number of tourists are doing just that, combining holidays with health care, and that’s because a growing number of countries are offering first-rate medical care at Third-World prices. Many of these medical tourists can’t afford health care at home (the 40 million uninsured Americans, for example). Others are going for procedures not covered by their insurance: cosmetic surgery or infertility treatment, for example.

And as Correspondent Bob Simon reported last spring, the hospitals in these faraway countries are glad to have these medical tourists. In fact, they are courting their business, trying to get more people to outsource their own health care.

Thailand is an exotic vacation spot known for its Buddhas, its beaches, its brothels, and the bustle of Bangkok.

But for people needing medical care, it’s known increasingly for Bumrungrad Hospital, a luxurious place that claims to have more foreign patients than any other hospital in the world. It’s like a United Nations of patients here, and they’re cared for by more than 500 doctors, most with international training.

The hospital has state-of-the-art technology, and here’s the clincher: the price. Treatment here costs about one-eighth what it does in the United States. It’s the No. 1 international hospital in the world.

“It’s sort of Ground Zero. I haven’t heard anybody yet who’s told us that they take more than 350,000 international patients a year,” says Curt Schroeder, CEO of Bumrungrad.