"You don't want to lose that trust that you've built with this patient...": (Dis)trust, medical tourism, and the Canadian family physician-patient relationship

Valorie A. Crooks, Neville Li, Jeremy Snyder, Shafik Dharamsi, Shelly Benjaminy, Karen J. Jacob, Judy Illes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Background: Recent trends document growth in medical tourism, the private pursuit of medical interventions abroad. Medical tourism introduces challenges to decision-making that impact and are impacted by the physician-patient trust relationship - a relationship on which the foundation of beneficent health care lies. The objective of the study is to examine the views of Canadian family physicians about the roles that trust plays in decision-making about medical tourism, and the impact of medical tourism on the therapeutic relationship. Methods: We conducted six focus groups with 22 family physicians in the Canadian province of British Columbia. Data were analyzed thematically using deductive and inductive codes that captured key concepts across the narratives of participants. Results: Family physicians indicated that they trust their patients to act as the lead decision-makers about medical tourism, but are conflicted when the information they are managing contradicts the best interests of the patients. They reported that patients distrust local health care systems when they experience insufficiencies in access to care and that this can prompt patients to consider going abroad for care. Trust fractures in the physician-patient relationship can arise from shame, fear and secrecy about medical tourism. Conclusions: Family physicians face diverse tensions about medical tourism as they must balance their roles in: (1) providing information about medical tourism within a context of information deficits; (2) supporting decision-making while distancing themselves from patients' decisions to engage in medical tourism; and (3) acting both as agents of the patient and of the domestic health care system. These tensions highlight the ongoing need for reliable third-party informational resources about medical tourism and the development of responsive policy.

Original languageEnglish
Article number25
JournalBMC Family Practice
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2015


  • Canada
  • Medical tourism
  • Physician-patient relationship
  • Trust


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