Medical tourism is a fascinating concept, gaining quick recognition in the United States. Although the practice of traveling abroad to receive medical procedures is decades old in Europe and has been practiced for hundreds of years in Asia, it is still quite new to Americans. So, in an effort to help explain the benefits and pitfalls of this relatively new industry, please allow me to share some of my first-hand experiences with you, a potential medical tourist.
There are four basic groups of North Americans who are most interested in medical tourism and the cost savings it provides:
· 45 Million Uninsured Americans
· 250 Million Insured Americans with restricted coverage due to pre-existing conditions, resulting in out-of-pocket expenses
· 32 Million Canadians receiving socialized medicine and enduring long wait lists for many popular surgeries
· Potentially, 332 Million North Americans seeking elective cosmetic and/or dental surgery
As you can see, the market potential is huge, but, unless a well organized, comprehensive, individualized program facilitating the healthcare needs and travel desires of North American consumers has been structured, medical tourism will only remain a vision and not a reality.
Quality and Safety of Healthcare Abroad
There is much to consider before experiencing a successful medical retreat. One of the first issues to investigate would be the quality and safety of healthcare abroad. You can perform a quick search on the internet and find a host of foreign hospitals, doctors, even government organizations marketing directly the worldwide consumer with hopes of attracting them to their country. CONSUMER BEWARE! Marketing rhetoric and posh photos can be very deceiving. I can personally vouch for this type of misperception. In my travels to 11 destinations within 7 countries around the world, I have seen these misrepresentations more often than not. This presents a very interesting question; how do you know who is telling the truth and who is fabricating information? The truth is, you don’t until you have either experienced it first hand or know of a trusting source that has had the experience.
In reality, it’s impossible for most people to know first hand because they haven’t traveled to a foreign country to inspect the quality of healthcare. So, what’s the next step? Find someone you can trust who has had the experience and is willing to provide an objective point of view. Good luck in your search! This may not be an easy task to accomplish. Hence the need for a bona fide, professional, medical tourism service agency in the U.S. to help consumers make these difficult choices. By utilizing the knowledge and expertise of an unbiased medical tourism specialist, you will better guarantee your safety and comfort while traveling abroad for your surgery.
To date, there is only one American owned company that offers a complete and thorough service to guide patients through the intricacies of this complex course of action. The organization is called MedRetreat, an American company facilitating the healthcare needs and travel desires of North Americans. You can visit http://www.medretreat.com for a very comprehensive education about the entire process. MedRetreat has inspected and verified the efficacy of their hospital affiliates. Most healthcare providers in the network are either JCI accredited, or, are in the process of accreditation. And, many of the doctors are board certified by the U.S, U.K. or Australia.
My personal advice – don’t go through the process alone. Utilize the experience of a company like MedRetreat who has performed their due-diligence on your behalf. It’s like trying to bake a cake for the very first time. Without the help of an experienced baker, like a good old grandma, you’re sure to make some mistakes. Traveling abroad for surgery, without the necessary knowledge, is much too important to take the chance of making any mistakes.
Once you feel comfortable about the quality of healthcare overseas, then it’s time to research another important factor in considering medical tourism as an option for your surgical procedure…the cost savings. Due to two main factors, the cost is as low as 1/10th of the price in the U.S. Here are two main reasons as sited by Mike Adams, the Health Ranger:
1. “Many workers in the health care industry are basically getting paid to shuffle paper around. The health insurance companies are paid to deny health claims and the government workers at Medicare and Medicaid offices are paid to find new ways to deny payments to doctors and hospitals for services rendered. Thus, doctors’ offices and hospitals have to employ entire armies of people to sit around and reclassify procedures in ways that can get paid by insurance companies, Medicare and Medicaid. It’s a massive waste of time, money and effort.”
”As a medical tourist in another country, you eliminate these paperwork shufflers. And right there, you can save as much as 80% right off the bat. Because now, your dollars are actually going to the surgeons, anesthesiologists and other hospital workers who are attending to you during your surgical procedure. Whereas in the United States, your money is going to the insurance company and then the insurance company money is being used to pay paper shufflers.”
2. “Another reason these surgical procedures are so much more affordable in Asia or other regions of the world is because of the liability issue. In the United States, doctors and hospitals must carry extremely expensive medical malpractice insurance policies. And patients seem to love to sue in the United States. In contrast, when you undergo a surgical procedure as a medical tourist in an offshore hospital, you sign paperwork that says you agree not to sue under certain conditions. Thus, you save a fortune by essentially not funding the legal fees, settlements and malpractice insurance costs normally found in U.S.-based healthcare practice.” Mr. Adams goes on to say; “when you combine these two savings – the paperwork shuffling reduction and the medical malpractice lawsuits – you get an incredible deal for your dollar.”
The Medical Tourism Experience
Now that we’ve covered the two most important aspects of medical tourism, quality and price, let’s briefly touch upon on the experience of traveling abroad.
Although choosing your destination is not the most important feature of your medical care objective, you should ultimately be pleased with your selection. After all, you’ll be spending anywhere between 2-4 weeks overseas and should be able to enjoy your recuperation process. There are many alternatives, but, you should definitely choose a destination that specializes in your required procedure. Of the many locations available, I’ve found that Malaysia, Thailand, and Brazil are the most popular. Make sure your service agent representative educates you about the country and culture before you go. This will prove to be a valuable investment of your time. Education is the key to a successful medical tour.
Researching and planning your recuperation period can be an exciting and adventurous process. It helps to relieve your thoughts about your surgical procedure and focus on the enjoyment segment of your medical retreat. Please be advised, depending on your surgery, you may not be able to enjoy certain activities, so, my best advice would be to look into physically inactive forms of enjoyment.
Destination Program Management
With the exception of Penang, Malaysia, which is an English speaking destination, and very easy to navigate on your own, all other destinations should offer the assistance of a Destination Program Manager (DPM) to help navigate the terrain and explain the nuances of the culture. A DPM will be your friend away from home. They will take care of all your personal needs while visiting. Remember, you will be recuperating from surgery and in most cases, not in the best physical and emotional condition to take care of the necessary details of a new environment. Here are some of the services a DPM will offer to guaranty your comfort and enjoyment:
· Meet and greet arriving customer at the airport
· Private transportation to the hotel
· Pre-arrange hotel check-in
· Private transportation to-and-from doctor consultation
· Private transportation to-and-from medical procedure
· Interpretation assistance at hospital or clinic if needed
· Provide communication assistance, such as cell phone or 24 hour contact number
· Check on recuperating patient daily once procedure is performed
· Provide emotional support if necessary during visit
· Assist with local tour and excursion arrangements
· Provide information about local dining, shopping, and pampering facilities
· Provide information about local culture and customs of destination
· Assure that customer is comfortable and content at all times
· Deliver customer to airport for departure
· Assist customer with baggage check-in upon departure
· Arrange for Airport medical assistance upon departure if necessary
So much to do…so little time
Because a successful medical retreat requires between 35-40 hours of planning, all facets of medical tourism cannot be discussed in one article such as this.
There is much to learn. The question is; how much is your time worth? Don’t waste time trying to reinvent the wheel. It would be very time to consume and cumbersome to piece together all the available information about medical tourism on the internet. It can also be very confusing and overwhelming.
There are companies perfectly capable of helping you through the process. And, some will not even charge you for their services. They receive compensation from their overseas partners for their role in the process. In fact, in many cases, you will spend less by using a professional medical tourism service agency. If you find the right organization, they will have negotiated more favorable pricing on your behalf and pass along some of the savings to you. So, in essence, you will not be able to receive a better price – even by going directly to the hospital yourself. The choice is yours. Choose well.
So, the question remains; is medical tourism for you?