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Traveling for a Cure
by Cheryl Ellis, Staff Writer
In the very olden days, people
traveled to “take cures” at the Swiss Alps and other
locales such as tuberculosis sanatoriums. Traveling to
receive treatment, even several weeks to convalesce at
the beach, was often a first choice option. Our current
society, defined by insurance diagnosis codes and
restrictions on coverage, may contribute to moving us
toward “med tourism” as an alternative to being turned
down for needed care.
Individuals who travel to other countries for less
expensive (and some say better) treatment, elective or
not, are finding they can sightsee while they have laser
eye surgery. Healthcare consumers evaluate destination,
quality of care and cost. This is a big change from
being forced to obtain care because insurance assigns
A six thousand dollar “nose job” in the United States
may be as little as one third the cost in South America.
The added bonus of travel and international caretaking
(paid for by the savings in medical prices) are
alluring. Depending on the type of surgery, there are
tours and special treatments (massage, spa and other
Medical tourists are not limited to elective procedures.
Alternative options exist for bone and joint surgery and
heart and vascular repair to name a few. There may be
shorter wait times for a doctor with expertise in the
field to become available for a procedure, too.
A down side to the international aspect is when a given
country is short on aftercare help. This may not appear
to be an issue, but when doctors are the only ones
managing respirators, having a knowledgeable technician
is important. Nursing staff may be at par, and rendering
these services, so it’s best to research this aspect as
well. Many surgeries require post-op physical therapy.
Asking who handles it (nursing or specialty therapists)
is better done before the plane ticket is purchased.
Don’t always rely on the “booking agent” and take the
time to look into the matter.
David Hancock, author of The Complete Medical Tourist,
compiled a listing of prices and perks for his book. He
began researching after his own medical tourism
experience and now has his own website.
The medical tourist experience will vary from one person
to another, and some companies specialize in helping the
individual customize their experience. Culture shock is
an important factor in assessing whether it is right for
the individual. It may seem like a fantastic deal where
the money is concerned, but other factors apply. How
well do you travel as a tourist in the next state, or
even county? If you get frustrated just finding a pack
of antacids, or become irritated with “slower” people
living in some areas, then international travel may not
be for you. The price may be much higher when it comes
to stress affecting your healing process.
If you are uncomfortable with staying in hotels when you
travel with family, sleeping in a strange bed will be
unsettling both on and off your native soil. It’s
essential you look within yourself to find out what you
enjoy doing, and then expand that to include how
comfortable you are.
Doctors accredited by JCI (Joint Commission
International), affiliated with JCAHO, do so through the
voluntary process. As with any doctor or medical care
facility, it’s best to check. JCAHO surveys over 20,000
Medical tourism companies will assist travelers with
everything from deciding if medical travel is right for
you down to customizing your experience. You will still
have to provide appropriate lab work, X rays and other
data as well as a complete medical history. The surgeon
who sees you out of the country will require as much
documentation to do a competent job as a local
Unexpected expenses may also occur when abroad. While
the buying power of the American dollar may be greater
in other areas, paying for the unexpected can dip into
savings. Budgeting for possible emergencies, such as
added costs from possible complications or medical
treatment for caregivers, should the need arise, is also
necessary. Willingness of the caregiver to obtain
treatment abroad should be considered also.
Options for caregivers seeking long-term care may be
possible abroad. This consideration works best when the
caregiver and loved one are from the country. Language,
customs and more figure in to make for a better
Caregivers who have been raised in the United States may
not connect with the native cultural experience, but
their loved one may. If family resides within the
country, the extended visiting network can help relieve
a caregiver of “placement guilt.” Not all caregivers,
regardless of the financial aspects, will be able to
make residence for extended or indefinite periods of
time. This is where the extended family can help provide
support in overseeing care at the facility.
Caregivers who are interested in more and better
treatment for their loved ones can apply some thought to
medical tourism. Information should not be limited to
what agencies offer as information. Researching via the
Internet, through sites such as JCAHO or National
Institute of Health, will provide information that
allows for a better decision. Folks have been traveling
outside of the country for treatment of cancer and other
diseases, but the phenomenon is becoming more accepted.