Medical Tourism: An Option for Keeping the Cost of Uninsured Medical Bills Down

Some day, if I ever get comfortable talking about it, I will write in detail about the reason for this post. For now though, let me just put some information out there for those of you who are fighting with medical conditions that are either not sufficiently covered through insurance or the wait time at your local medical facility is far too long.

What is medical tourism?
Simply put, it is a combination of tourism and medical treatment. In earlier days, people from developing countries (who could afford it) would travel to developed countries seeking state-of-the-art medical treatment. However, in more recent years, due to the increase in health care costs and the long wait for some specialized procedures in developed countries combined with the availability of sophisticated medical treatment in developing countries, the trend seems to have reversed. People now go from countries like USA, Canada, Japan, UK etc, to developing countries like India, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Columbia etc. where same level of medical attention can be obtained for a fraction of the cost. According to this article medical tourism is poised to be a multi-billion dollar industry and studies estimate that medical tourism could bring between $1 billion and $2 billion USD into India alone by 2012.

What are the medical conditions for which one may opt for medical tourism?
In general, medical tourism is an option to consider for elective procedures which may not be covered by insurance or requires a long wait in the native country. Examples include cardiac surgery, joint replacement, dental procedures, plastic/cosmetic surgery, infertility treatment, lasik eye surgery etc. In addition, medical tourism has attracted patients seeking alternative medicines when modern science fails and for recuperative medical spas.

Which countries offer medical tourism options?
Here is a map that was originally published in this article that shows the different countries that offer medical tourism options.

What are the advantages of seeking medical help abroad?
The first and foremost is of course the significantly reduced cost of treatment. According to Wikipedia, - "A heart-valve replacement that would cost US$200,000 or more in the U.S., for example, goes for $10,000 in the Philippines and India—and that includes round-trip airfare and a brief vacation package." Treatment for other medical conditions can also cost anywhere from 1/3rd to 1/10th the cost in US, UK or Canada offering significant savings.

In addition, many of the facilities in developed countries have long wait periods for surgeries that may not be life-threatening. Countries that cater to medical tourism offer patients quick treatment options thus helping prevent long painful waiting periods for treatment.

For those that like the exotic, medical tourism offers packaged travel deals with luxury accommodation and special attention while still keeping the cost less than that of just the surgery in the home country.

Contrary to common stereotype image of the developing countries, the facilities that offer medical tourism provide quality state-of-the-art medical treatment by professionals trained in the best medical facilities around the world and are leaders in their field.

What are the things to be aware of while considering medical help abroad?
One of the biggest concerns with medical tourism is that the countries that offer medical tourism may not have stringent malpractice laws as the US, UK or Canada. That means that if something were to go wrong, there will be little option for recourse.

Since you will likely return back to the home country within a few days/weeks after the medical procedure, there is very little scope for follow-up care and the patients must look to the local facilities in the native country if any post-procedure follow-up is required.

In some cases where the treatment stretches for months, it may be required to stay in the foreign country for long. While this may be viable financially, attention must be paid to emotional and psychological comfort of the person going through the difficult times in a foreign land.

Finally, there is the ethical question that many of the facilities ignore the local patients in their eagerness to please the patients from developed countries with fatter wallets.

Where can I find more information?
A simple Google search for the term “medical tourism” yields a lot of information. Here are some of resources I found helpful

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Anonymous said...

It is really surprising to know the duration of time patients have to wait for an appointment with the doctor. With increased waiting list and expensive procedures, it is increasingly difficult to afford the time and money. I think that the Indian private healthcare system can be truly described as being state-of-the-art. The Indian expertise in healthcare, the entire experience of low cost surgery / treatment in internationally accredited hospitals, fast track recovery amidst a very pleasant and caring environment has put India on the global medical tourism map. Since it is also one of the most favourable tourist destinations in the world, Medication combines with tourism has come into effect, from which the concept of Medical Tourism is derived.
For instance in India's Wockhardt hospitals, medical treatment is not only fast but also costs a fraction of what it costs in USA or Europe. Even tele-consultancy is available for expert opinion and transmission facilities. Wockhardt Hospitals Group is associated with Harvard Medical International which enables the hospital to provide world class clinical expertise and excellent patient care backed by latest technology, multi-disciplinary capability and world class infrastructure and it is JCI accredited. Wockhardt one of the major players attracting international patients from US, UK and Canada. Add to this very little waiting time, excellent comforts and the best medical facilities and you get a very attractive option to perform all sorts of specialized medical treatments. Wockhardt Heart Hospital, Brain & Spine Hospital, Eye Hospital, Bone & Joint Hospital, Minimal Access Surgery Hospital, Wockhardt Hospital & Kidney Institute, Kolkatta, Wockhardt Liver Transplantation and Digestive Disease Centre, Hip Resurfacing Centre, Joint Replacement Surgery, Cosmetic Surgery Centre, Trans Nasal Brain Tumor Surgery, PELD- Minimal, Access Slipped Disk Surgery, Obesity Surgery Centre, Peripheral & Vascular Disease Centre, Parkinson's Disease Centre, Surgical Oncology (Cancer Surgery). Speciality Clinics like Diabetes Clinic, Backache & Spine Clinic, Arthritis & Joint Pain Clinic, Parkinson’s Clinic, ENT etc are a part of the Wockhardt group.

Please visit the link below to read the international patients' experiences.

ispf said...

anonymous: Thanks for the detailed information about Wockhardt hospitals. Did you have any treatment done there? Or do you work there? Just curious.

Rob in Madrid said...

Excellet Post. It's not just Americans that are going aboard. Brits and Canadains are but for different reasons. Maily waiting list times. The UK unlike Canada does have private healthcare but it's generally cheaper to go abroad it you don't have private healthcare.

A good but basised view on waiting lists in canada google

A Short Course in Brain Surgery

ispf said...

Rob: Thanks for the link! I am glad I am not in the shoes of the person in the video! Here in the US, the wait is shorter and they treat you ASAP - provided you show them the money first! And a lot of money at that! My doctor's office does not handle cases unless covered by insurance or is pre-paid. And just in case you cannot afford to pay, they actually have a "financing" office on premises! You will go broke, but at least you will be healthy when you face the debt collectors :)

Coming back to the original topic, the more I think about it, the more appealing medical tourism sounds!

Anonymous said...

In reference to the question as to whether the author actually had work done at Wockhardt, allow me to say that I have. I was introduced to Wockhardt by America's Medical Solutions (AMS) which is owned and operated by Americans living in Bombay, India. Not only was I pleased, but I'm raving about it. I never had such good care in America which began when I was a little boy until about five years ago. I cannot recommend enough, however, dealing with AMS as they are completely FREE and will help you with so many things you cannot imagine.