Medical tourism research reveals health inequities facing local populations in Mexico
By Phoebe Melvin
Krystyna Adams, who convocates this month with a PhD in health sciences, spent three months living in Mexico to learn how medical tourism practices shape health-care delivery. The research, conducted for her thesis, illustrates how the medical tourism industry might exacerbate global health inequities if health-care resources are only used to provide care to those who can afford to pay.
Her research is so impactful that during her PhD program she published seven articles in peer-reviewed journals, including Social Science & Medicine, and the Journal of the Canadian Dental Association. What’s more, her stellar grades—a cumulative grade point average (GPA) of 4.19 out of a possible 4.33— have earned her a Governor General’s Gold Medal, awarded each year to the two graduate students with the highest GPA.
Adams, who holds both undergraduate and master’s degrees from SFU, focused her thesis on the ethical implications of the medical tourism industry, specifically targeting dental tourism in Mexico. She spent three months in Los Algodones, Mexico where there are more than 500 practicing dentists catering to tourists who travel there for cheaper dental care than they can find back home.
Initially her research examined the factors shaping Canadians’ decisions to leave Canada for medical care. In Los Algodones, however, she expanded her focus to include why particular locations become destinations for medical tourists, how local residents experience the industry’s development and how this development interacts with the local health-care system.
She found that, despite the large number of dentists, many locals could not access dental care because the dental practices were focused on maximizing profits from international medical tourists. This discourages them from helping less affluent locals who are less able to pay out-of-pocket expenses.
In her dissertation Adams argues for regulation of the global medical tourism industry. She says this could help prevent unfair industry practices, including those that might negatively impact access to health care for populations most in need.
She is now working as a policy analyst at the British Columbia Ministry of Health.
“My work feels very meaningful as I can see how it could improve access to health care for many people in need,” says Adams. “It is really neat to see how my training in health sciences is informing my work at the government.”