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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 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 other therapies).

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 professional.

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.

 


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