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"Ensure that you are well aware of the risks you are taking…": actions and activities medical tourists' informal caregivers can undertake to protect their health and safety.

Abstract

Background

When seeking care at international hospitals and clinics, medical tourists are often accompanied by family members, friends, or other caregivers. Such caregiver-companions assume a variety of roles and responsibilities and typically offer physical assistance, provide emotional support, and aid in decision-making and record keeping as medical tourists navigate unfamiliar environments. While traveling abroad, medical tourists' caregiver-companions can find themselves confronted with challenging communication barriers, financial pressures, emotional strain, and unsafe environments.

Methods

To better understand what actions and activities medical tourists' informal caregivers can undertake to protect their health and safety, 20 interviews were conducted with Canadians who had experienced accompanying a medical tourist to an international health care facility for surgery. Interview transcripts were subsequently used to identify inductive and deductive themes central to the advice research participants offered to prospective caregiver-companions.

Results

Advice offered to future caregiver-companions spanned the following actions and activities to protect health and safety: become an informed health care consumer; assess and avoid exposure to identifiable risks; anticipate the care needs of medical tourists and thereby attempt to guard against caregiver burden; become familiar with important logistics related to travel and anticipated recovery timelines; and take practical measures to protect one's own health.

Conclusion

Given that a key feature of public health is to use research findings to develop interventions and policies intended to promote health and reduce risks to individuals and populations, the paper draws upon major points of advice offered by study participants to take the first steps toward the development of an informational intervention designed specifically for the health and safety needs of medical tourists' caregiver companions. While additional research is required to finalize the content and form of such an intervention, this study provides insight into what practical advice former caregiver-companions state should be shared with individuals considering assuming these roles and responsibilities in the future. In addition, this research draws attention to the importance of ensuring that such an intervention is web-based and readily accessible by prospective caregiver-companions.

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