Medical Tourism Downsides


A patient comes into the hospital with dizziness and trouble breathing.
The story about how he developed those symptoms was a little more involved.

The patient needed some major work done on his teeth. He was having a lot of pain and couldn’t take it any longer. So he sold his favorite Harley Davidson motorcycle and had about $6,000 available to fix his teeth. After calling around to multiple dentists and clinics, the best price he could get to have all of the work done in the US was about $14,000. He read about medical tourism in a newspaper article, so he made some phone calls and sent some e-mails and found a place near a resort town in Mexico that would do the same work for $3,000.

So he took the trip to said resort town and had the work done. With the extra money he saved, he figured that he would spend a little time relaxing with his wife at the resort. So he booked a week at the resort and still had money left over.

During one of the days at the resort, he decided to do some jet skiing. But he had never been jet skiing before, and during one of his jaunts, he hit a wave, went airborne, and came down on his ribs on the side of the jet ski. Ouch.

He went to the nearby clinic in Mexico, was diagnosed with a bad bruise, and was given ibuprofen.

The following day, he had more trouble breathing and went back to the clinic. The bruise was hurting him more when he took a deep breath. Just take more ibuprofen, they told him.

The next day he got on the plane. By the time he got home, he was having a lot of trouble breathing. He almost passed out while dragging his luggage through the airport. By the time he got to the hospital, he was saturating at 84% and his blood pressure was 80 systolic.

A few lab tests and a chest x-ray later, we had our diagnosis: Hemopneumothorax with a hemoglobin of 7.6.

A chest tube and a couple of units of blood later, he was smiling enough to see that new dental work.

The hospital bill … now that’s another story.


This and all posts about patients may be fictional, may be my experiences, may be submitted by readers for publication here, or may be any combination of the above. Factual statements may or may not be accurate. If you would like to have a patient story published on WhiteCoat’s Call Room, please e-mail me.


  1. I will comment that this wasn’t the result of medical tourism. It was pure tourism and a jet-ski accident that caused his woes.

    Now, if his jaw starts to rot, then we would have negative consequences from the fact that he sought out a non-U.S. dentist. But I suspect that’s unlikely – my experience with Mexican dentists is that they’re competent to work on teeth, albeit most don’t have as much fancy equipment as dentists up here do.

    I’m not particularly surprised at the difference in charges – the expense structure is different in Mexico. I am somewhat surprised that the patient was able to get reliable quotes for what the work would cost up here, in advance – I can never find out what a procedure is going to cost ahead of time. One time I got an answer which floored me – “we can’t tell you what the bill will be, we don’t know how much your insurance company will pay”.

    • The post was intended more to show the irony of taking somewhat drastic measures to save money … only to end up spending more money in the end.

      My experience with dentists is quite the opposite from yours. I’ve called several dentists and have been given prices for procedures – including the amount of cash discount.

  2. My parents used to go to Germany for dental and vision care since Medicare did not provide coverage. They had a couple of doctors in Munich, and they were pleased to be saving enough to finance the flight every couple of years as well as getting genuine German craftsmanship that they thought they could not get in the USA at any price.
    One of my friends broke his leg skiing at Chamonix. He had to be heli-evaced. He got a good result from the orthopedic surgery, excellent French food in the hospital, and the medical care was gratis. They did make him pay for the helicopter–$700. You can not sneeze in an American ER for that kind of money.
    Are there any anecdotes about missed diagnoses in American ER’s that you can share with us?

    • $700 wouldn’t even pay for the helicopter fuel in the US. More like $15,000 for a typical air transport in my area.

      I could give you anectdotes all day about missed diagnoses in the ED. Have done so on some previous posts on this blog. This post was intended to show irony as noted above, not to be a condemnation of medical care in Mexico.

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