There is a new term being bandied about in the medical community: circumvention tourism. It is used to describe the practice of traveling outside of the United States to get a treatment that is not approved here. Circumvention tourism is most often applied to regenerative medicine procedures like stem cell therapy.
It is assumed that the term was coined based on an understanding of the long-accepted practice of medical tourism. Medical tourism differs from circumvention tourism in its motivations. As such, circumvention tourism automatically has a negative connotation. For right or wrong, that is the way many in the medical community view it.
The question at hand for those who would seek alternative treatments is one of what their future holds without such treatments. Ultimately, patients should have the final say. To that end, here are five questions that patients should ask themselves before traveling abroad for PRP or stem cell therapies:
1. Are the treatments safe?
The first thing to ask is whether the treatments are safe or not. Of course, providers are going to claim they are safe. But provider claims are not necessarily reliable. Patients have to do extensive research on their own. They also have to be open-minded about what their research uncovers. Even a small amount of information suggesting a procedure is unsafe is cause for concern.
2. Do the treatments work?
Next is the question of whether the treatments actually work or not. However, there is an inherent trap in this question: there is no such thing as a treatment that works for everyone. Apex Biologix, a U.S. company that deals in regenerative medicine equipment supplies, suggests patients look at both clinical and anecdotal data. Anecdotal data is especially important for some regenerative medicine procedures that lack clinical data to back them up.
3. Are there better treatments here?
The third question is whether there are any better treatments offered here in the States. Sometimes there are, other times there aren’t. Still, it is not wise to assume that a treatment offered abroad is always going to be better than what is available here. Patients should also not be quick to believe conspiracy theories that say the only reason a miracle cure is not available here is because Big Healthcare doesn’t want us to have access to it.
4. Am I prepared for negative outcome?
It is never wise to agree to any medical procedure without first understanding that you could experience a negative outcome. Preparing for such an outcome is even more important when you are seeking treatment abroad. The very real possibility that the treatment will not help you could leave you in a place that is worse than where you started.
5. Does the FDA always know best?
Lastly is the question of whether the FDA always knows best. We have a habit of thinking so in this country. But it is not true. The FDA is prone to politicization, lobbying, and monetary influence. Just because they approve or reject a particular medical treatment does not necessarily mean their decision is the correct one. Sometimes it’s not
The unfortunate reality is that American medicine does not have all the answers. Likewise, there are treatments offered in other countries that are better than what we have here. It is ultimately up to the patient to decide what is best for him or her. Indeed, that is where the premise of circumvention tourism goes off the rails. Patients have the right to choose how and where they will access healthcare. Most will choose wisely if given the opportunity to do so.