RN’s Role in Medical Tourism

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Every year, more than a million Americans cross the borders to seek medical and dental care. Medical tourism is a billion-dollar industry, and registered nurses (RNs) play an essential role, both in the United States and overseas.

RNs are essential to helping patients understand the risks and benefits that come with medical tourism and helping post-treatment patients receive necessary follow-up care in the United States. RNs also help patients who come to the United States to receive high-quality care.

Franklin Shaffer, president and CEO of CGFNS (Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools) International, said RNs help patients in the United States and abroad, but should be culturally competent and understand the barriers that exist between patients and providers. Nurses are crucial to the successful execution of healthcare tourism, he said.

“First and foremost, we need to understand the dynamics of medical tourism and to ensure that it is being performed for the right reasons, with a competent staff and with knowledgeable patients,” said Shaffer, an RN. “More nurses need to be involved in this industry to ensure that patients are safeguarded across the care spectrum.”

Indeed, RNs play an essential role in helping patients traveling to the United States and Americans who travel overseas for healthcare. But before RNs can provide effective care, they should understand the benefits of medical tourism and their responsibilities in patient care. Earning a BSN degree, including an RN to BSN online, helps nurses boost their knowledge of essential skills in advanced care.

Medical Tourism in the United States and Beyond

For decades, foreign patients have been traveling to the United States for quality medical care. While the U.S. medical tourism market is still going strong, a growing number of Americans are now traveling overseas in search of less expensive medical care.

Increased access to the internet and globalization have made faraway lands more accessible and information about medical breakthroughs readily available. The market for medical tourism has become so strong that The Joint Commission healthcare accrediting body has established an international arm. The Joint Commission International (JCI) was created in 1999 to monitor quality and safety in healthcare facilities around the world.

Patients Without Borders, which provides consumer information about medical travel, said some of the leading destinations include Costa Rica, India, Thailand, South Korea and Turkey. American patients most often travel overseas to seek cosmetic surgery, dental procedures, cancer treatments, cardiovascular care and assisted reproductive technology to treat infertility. International patients travel to the United States seeking medical tourism benefits for treatment from specialists, particularly for complex cases.

As key players in medical tourism, nurses play several roles in the industry, researchers said in the American Nurses Association’s peer-reviewed publication, the Online Journal of Issues in Nursing (OJIN).

“Nurses have a dual role in medical tourism, namely to help clients find appropriate sites in which to obtain the desired care in other countries and also to warn clients of possible risks and ethical/legal dilemmas,” researchers said.

Nursing and Medical Tourism

In some cases, RNs also travel with patients to overseas destinations to help patients as they recover, or they treat patients in hospitals after they return to ensure gaps in healthcare are closed.  They work as care coordinators in the United States, connecting patients with overseas healthcare agencies. In the process, RNs learn cultural competencies and leadership skills that translate into effective practice.

In doing the work, nurses should be aware of possible ethical and legal considerations and warn patients. The ethical considerations include the siphoning of medical resources from local medical centers in foreign countries for the care of international patients. The legal factors include the lack of legal recourse for patients in the event of an adverse event, researchers said in OJIN.

“The principle of nonmaleficence, primum non nocere, commonly translated as ‘first, do no harm,’ is called into question in these situations,” the OJIN authors said, citing a 2000 study by the acclaimed biomedical ethicists Tom L. Beauchamp and James F. Childress.

For RNs interested in working in medical tourism or any careers with a BSN degree, a first step is earning an RN-BSN degree.  At Duquesne University, nurses learn strategies essential to BSN nursing, including critical thinking skills and cultural competencies.

About Duquesne University’s Online Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN-BSN) program

Duquesne University’s online RN-BSN program provides students with customized degree plans and the opportunity to learn from some of the nation’s most highly regarded nursing professionals. Licensed RNs enrolled in Duquesne University’s RN-BSN online program automatically earn 60 of the required 120 credit hours for graduation. Those with a bachelor’s degree in another field who are licensed as RNs are only required to complete 30 credit hours to earn a BSN.

The coursework is flexible and presented 100% online so nurses can continue their education and advance their careers with little disruption to their work and personal schedules. Students who earn a Duquesne University BSN are also eligible to take three graduate-level nursing courses for an early start on an MSN degree. For more information, visit Duquesne University’s online RN-BSN program website.



Medical Tourism Market Worth $131.35 Billion by 2025: MarketWatch

The Growing Trend of Medical Tourism: Lippincott NursingCenter

Trends In U.S. Health Travel Services Trade: U.S. International Trade Commission

Medical Tourism Statistics & Facts: Patients Beyond Borders

Medical Tourism: A New Role for Nursing? OJIN