Medical Travel Legal Issues Agents Should Know

A lawyer reveals the most important legal pitfalls related to medical tourism.


It is clear that medical tourism is a growing worldwide phenomenon. It’s an increasingly requested type of travel assistance facing agents on a daily basis. Lawyers argue that agents dealing with this lucrative niche must have a specialised knowledge base, including awareness of legal issues. Kevin J Ryan, chairman of the Health Care Law Group at Much Shelist Denenberg Ament & Rubenstein, a Chicago law firm, says that first of all professionals should not overly recommend assurances or make pledges and promises about the quality of care to be provided.

“Representations of quality are not the expertise of the people doing travel arrangements,” he advises. “In medical travel, you really want the patient making the decision, making sure the provider is a good fit, doing background checks on qualifications.” The travel agent should not be advising on the quality of care or about “the best providers” as that implies assurances that the agent may not have a factual grounding for. “The best thing to say is that there are quality providers in such-and-such a destination, and then put the customer in touch with the resources to contact those providers, as opposed to making recommendations. You just don’t want to make that representation of quality, because then it gives somebody a reason to come back to the person who helped coordinate the travel if something goes wrong.”

Another area agents should be aware of is privacy and security laws that may protect health information. In many countries, an agent can provide contact information so that medical records can be coordinated. But what a travel agent should avoid getting involved with is the actual transmission of medical records. An agent’s expertise is needed when arranging medical tourism – flight connections, accommodation, the peculiarities of the destination.

“The complexity of the arrangements may be completely different for someone going to an island for plastic surgery than for someone going to a distant destination, such as India, Thailand, Singapore, India and even New Zealand,” Ryan explains. “People have to understand how long the trip is because that may affect their procedures and recovery time. Those are the areas where agents can be helpful. They can provide information and knowledge so that medical travellers can make informed decisions.” Travel Market Report [pictured: Private Clinic of Dr K Feldmanis, Riga, Latvia]