|Medical Tourism: 5 Critical Things to Know
What is Medical Tourism?
Simply defined, medical tourism is a trip of 200 miles or more from
home with a primary purpose of seeking some form of medical
treatment or care. (Sometimes this kind of trek is referred to as a
"meditrip".) Most medical tourism destinations are more exotic than
a simple trip from Milwaukee to Chicago, however. Medical tourism
destinations range all over the globe, from Argentina to Vietnam.
Medical tourism is not a new concept. Evidence exists of such
activities dating back thousands of years; 19th Century English
literature is filled with narratives of people flocking to spa towns like
Bath to "take the waters". Today, medical tourism is a much more
sophisticated endeavor; the potential for cost-savings and
exemplary quality of care are great, but there are definite downside
risks to be aware of and important precautions to take.
High Health Care Costs a Motivation
Medical tourism agencies cite speed and convenience as two major motivating factors for U.S.
citizens seeking health care abroad. While it is true that North American waiting periods for
non-emergency procedures such as hip replacements can be lengthy, there is no question that
skyrocketing U.S. health care costs are a major motivation in sending people overseas for
treatments. A knee replacement with post-operative physical therapy that costs over $65,000 in
the U.S. can be competently performed in Thailand for about $15,000.
Approximately 750,000 Americans went abroad for health care in 2007.
Making the Best Choices
Your health is our most precious personal possession; don't be reckless and impulsive when
deciding where and from whom to seek medical treatment. It is wise to do your homework and
look before you leap. Here are some tips and resources to use when investigating the option of
seeking health care abroad:
Choosing an Accredited Foreign Health Care Provider
Chances are you wouldn't visit a non-accredited U.S. hospital or health care clinc; verifiable
professional standards should be just as important to you in health care facilities abroad.
Several organizations conduct recognized accreditation programs for overseas health care
organizations; the Joint Commission International (JCI) is currently the most recognized
accreditation authority for non-U.S. health care facilities.
The Joint Commission International has accredited over 300 public and private health care
organizations in 39 countries since 1999. The JCI program uses best-practices standards and
benchmarks to help foreign health care organizations prepare for and attain accreditation and
certification as well as providing a higher level of quality patient care. In addition to accreditation
programs, JCI provides ongoing evaluations, consultations and education programs; their
patient safety program enables foreign hospitals and health care clinics to practice and
implement the highest standards of facility management; medication safety; infection prevention
and control; and patient safety.
You can learn more about the Joint Commission International accreditation and certification
programs as well as the organizations they have already accredited (by country) on their
Local Health Risks
Experienced travelers know that visiting foreign countries can expose you to local and regional
diseases which North Americans have little or no built-up immunities to. If you're visiting a
foreign destination for medical treatment, you may be in a weakened condition, making you
even more susceptible to local diseases.
General advice and country-specific information on diseases and pre-visit vaccination
recommendations and requirements can be found on the Center for Disease Control's website:
Ironically, one of the reasons foreign health care can be so much less expensive than U.S.
treatment is that overseas health care organizations often do not operate within a legal system
requiring malpractice insurance or other measures and precautions for litigation protection.
The legal system of a particular country may give patients few options to seek justifiable
recompense. U.S. Embassy consulars can provide you with information about general legal
conditions of their specific country; contact information is available on the U.S. State
Department website: www.state.gov/countries.
A visit to a foreign country for a medical stay puts you in a vulnerable position: In many cases
your treatment may prevent you from evacuating a country on short-notice; additionally, any
political upheaval could result in your foreigner status suddenly exempting you from local
services, hospitalities and general goodwill.
To avoid risk, check with the U.S. State Department's travel warning service before embarking
on a "meditrip". U.S. State Department travel advisories and warnings can be found on their
Planning a trouble-free trip abroad can be very complex; throwing an overseas medical
procedure into the mix can dramatically complicate planning with increased complexities.
A new type of travel agent has emerged. A Medical Tourism Facilitator helps people plan for a
smooth and successful trip involving overseas medical treatment. Qualified Medical Tourism
Facilitators may specialize in specific countries and/or specific medical procedures and
treatments; know a great deal of current information about visiting a country; the hospitals and
doctors; available supplementary insurance coverages; passport requirements; nearby lodging,
dining and transportation options; and much, much more.
A good place to start seeking a competent, qualified Medical Tourism Facilitator is on the
Medical Tourism Association website: www.medicaltourismassociation.com. Be certain to
perform due diligence with any Medical Tourism Facilitator you interview. Ask about their
experience, credentials, references, and any direct financial considerations with the health care
providers they recommend. (Finders Fees or Commissions paid by the foreign hospitals or
doctors on their recommendation lists.) Check with the Better Business Bureau to see if any
complaints about their services have been documented by the BBB.
A good Medical Tourism Facilitator can help you tremendously in making your overseas health
care treatment process go smoothly and successfully.
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