Medical Migration in the US/Mexico Borderlands

Study Abstract:

This study examines medical migration, briefly defined as the movement of people across borders for healthcare. It was conducted along the United States-Mexico border, focusing on the impacts that medial migration has on the healthcare system, patient practices, and quality of medical care in the area. Previous studies have illustrated that Americans actively pursue healthcare opportunities in Mexico, but there is little literature detailing the institutional structures and cultural beliefs that enable or encourage people to do so. This study examined the hypotheses: 1) that Americans cross the border for healthcare predominately because of lack of insurance and high medical cost, 2) that similarities to the US medical model are the primary criterion that patients use when they choose a medical provider in Mexico, and 3) that nationalism is an important component which overshadows patient safety when medical professionals frame medical tourism.

Research took place over an eleven-month period in McAllen, Texas and Nuevo Progreso, Mexico. Participant observation was conducted at health clinics, dentist offices, and pharmacies in both the US and Mexico. Further research was conducted at RV Parks in Hidalgo County, TX. Additional information was gathered through interviews with medical professionals, community leaders, medical migrants, border guards, insurance companies, and medical tourism brokers.

This project is important because it expands upon the previous research on medical migration to examine how healthcare inequalities, poverty, and policies influence individual healthcare decisions and options. It also contributes to understanding the various components that link the US to Mexico and some of the policy concerns that each country faces. Until the practice of medical migration is understood, we will not know the different reasons why people believe they need to go abroad for healthcare, nor will the factors that influence choice (i.e. location, practitioner, treatment, advertisements etc.) be fully realized. Through understanding the dynamics of this practice, the risks associated with traveling for healthcare can be reduced and overall patient health increased. 



Advertisement for a tourist pharmacy in Nuevo Progreso


Inside of a tourist pharmacy in Nuevo Progreso