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Volunteering overseas gives travel a purpose A knee replacement that costs about $35,000 in the U.S. could run $8,200 in Poland, $7,200 in Colombia, or $6,600 in India. (Photo: Shutterstock)

About 14 million people spent $68 billion on medical tourism in 2016, according to consulting firm PwC. A growing number are Westerners headed to developing countries for cosmetic surgery or dental work, procedures that are less expensive and invasive than major operations and often aren’t covered by insurance. PwC predicts that by 2021 the medical tourism market will reach $125 billion. The growth will be built not on nose jobs and dental implants but on costlier and riskier procedures with longer recovery times, such as knee replacements and heart surgeries.

Startups from Berlin to Bangkok are trying to do for medical tourists what Airbnb or Hotels.com does for the general public. Instead of searching for a place to stay, users type in a medical procedure and get a list of clinics or doctors in nations that offer the surgery—scroll and click on a link to make an appointment. The companies charge providers a commission for bookings or a flat subscription fee to be on the platform. And they’re working on additional revenue streams, such as planning beach vacations for recuperating patients and their families, most likely by integrating their platforms with popular travel sites.

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