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 the doctor.
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
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 healthcare programs.
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 long-term experience.
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.