Questions To Consider When Researching Medical Tourism

Questions To Consider When Researching Medical Tourism

First things first, what is medical tourism?

Basically it’s travelling either domestically or internationally to avail of a medical treatment. Health tourism, healthcare tourism, medical vacations, medical travel, and medical holidays, all these terms refer to the same thing. Dental tourism and fertility tourism are other procedure-specific labels for the practice.

People go overseas to get treatment that is either preventive, rehabilitative or curative. These procedures are elective treatments — meaning they are planned and scheduled in advance, as opposed to emergency surgeries. Elective medical procedures can be necessary, similar to organ transplants or optional and performed for non-medical reasons like cosmetic surgery.

Why would people want to travel abroad for medical care?

Cost Savings

Most people opt for medical tourism to save on their treatments, as medical treatments abroad can cost 50%-70% less of what they would in more developed countries. For instance, spinal fusion surgery in Spain, India and Mexico would range from $6,000 to $13,000. Airfare would be $600 to $4000. For the same procedure in the U.S., you’re looking at a payout of $67,000 to $110,000 without medical insurance.

Savings on Medical Treatments Abroad

Owned by the Author

Medical Insurance Issues

For those with medical insurance, the payout can still be a substantial amount. Payouts become steeper for the underinsured and the uninsured. In some cases, patients without insurance may not be able to get the right medical attention in the first place. Even with medical insurance, you aren’t guaranteed coverage of the elective medical procedure you have in mind. It’s not surprising then that people turn to medical tourism to obtain medical care.

Long Public Waiting Lists

In regions that provide universal health care, patients have to contend with public waiting lists. Some people have to wait up to and exceeding a year before their procedure. Recently, patients in the UK have had to wait about a month longer for common procedures like hernia repairs or cataract removals. Patients in need of a knee replacement face waiting for up to 107 days.

The delay may not be critical for people with non-life threatening conditions. However, a reduced waiting time could make a world of difference in your quality of life, especially if you’ve long been suffering in pain.

Treatment Availability

Patients may opt for a medical treatment that isn’t available locally such as stem cell therapy or in vitro fertilization (IVF). In some European countries, egg and sperm donation is illegal. Your home country may not have the technology, the technical expertise or the legal permission that are necessary to perform certain procedures. Thus, patients would opt for fertility treatment overseas.

Treatment Superiority

On the other hand, all these factors may be in place where you’re from, but the best doctor for the job may not. For some patients, having the best specialist performing their procedure is the only acceptable course of action.

Aside from specific doctors, there are also hospitals that are known for particular procedures. Oftentimes they are recognized as a center of excellence for these specializations. Patients tend to be more confident, knowing of the institution’s standards. As the patient, it’s important that you feel comfortable with all aspects of the medical treatment you’re about to undergo.

Privacy and Discretion

For IVF treatments, some would-be parents (and donors) would prefer that their child’s biological origins remain anonymous. However, Sweden, Austria and the UK have banned anonymous donations. Legislation in some U.S. states such as Washington have also enacted stricter policies on IVF donations and donor information. In the UK, the ban has led to a shortage of donors, forcing Britons to wait for months or to go abroad for fertility treatment.

A trip abroad is also a good opportunity for patients who want to keep their medical procedure under wraps. Combining treatment with a holiday somewhere else is a perfect way to maintain a high degree of privacy.

Combination Vacation

Many procedures have minimal recovery or down times. For non-surgical procedures like laser hair removal or Botox injections, there isn’t a need for recovery time. Patients can plan to have their treatment at the beginning or end of their trips. These procedures can easily fit into almost anyone’s itinerary.

Back to Top

How much would I spend for my medical vacation?

Costs will vary depending on what procedure you’re eyeing and where you’d like to avail of that procedure.

When you’re doing research on your medical treatment, don’t settle for the “sticker price” or the listed price of a procedure. Ask about the cost of the full procedure, possibly including a breakdown of that figure. Remember that the final price of your treatment is composed of different expenses. Depending on your actual procedure, it could include:

  • Doctor’s fees
  • Other specialist’s fees such as the anesthesiologist’s
  • Material costs (breast implants, anesthesia, for example)
  • Medications
  • Laboratory tests and/or diagnostic imaging
  • Operating room costs
  • Room rates for inpatient procedures
  • Follow-up appointments

Even at respected hospitals in your home country, there are always risks involved. Remember to ask upfront if the quoted price includes care for any possible complications like post-surgical infection. Regardless of where you’re going, it’s best to be prepared.

You will also need to consider the costs of travel and accommodations. Keep in mind the duration of the actual procedure as well as the recovery time needed before traveling back home. Vaccination for certain diseases might also be recommended based on your travel destination. Plan and prepare for your trip accordingly.

Another expense you may want to consider is travel insurance, which helps cover medical expenses, inconveniences like delayed flights, and associated financial losses incurred while traveling. Sometimes your credit card company may even cover issues like car rental liability or lost luggage. Travel insurance coverage can vary based on the provider and the type of policy. Its categories typically include trip cancellation, travel medical, major medical, emergency medical evacuation, accidental death/flight accident, and specialized coverage.

If you already have medical or health insurance, you can check your policies for possible coverage on treatments availed abroad.

Back to Top

What about health insurance?

Depending on your health insurance provider, your policy may not cover medical procedures performed overseas. Whether you’re planning on international or domestic medical tourism, don’t forget to ask the clinic or hospital about possible medical insurance coverage. Double check this information with your insurance provider.

Some insurance companies may be maintaining an international network of doctors and hospitals. For example, Blue Cross Blue Shield has international plans in Costa Rica, Panama, Uruguay, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Your employer could also be offering medical tourism as an option under your company’s health insurance plan and benefits package. In 2008, U.S. health insurer Wellpoint announced a program that covered employees of a Wisconsin printing company for non-emergency surgeries in India. Try asking your human resource officer about this.

If you’re heading to Europe, you might consider applying for a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which is free. It can be helpful during emergencies, but does not work as a substitute for insurance. The card entitles you to medical treatment in state-run hospitals in some European countries including Iceland and Norway. Holders pay the same cost for treatment as a local — if it’s free for that country’s residents, it’s free for you. Otherwise, you will still have to shoulder the costs. To check for eligibility and apply for the card, visit the NHS site.

For more information, read this about health insurance and medical tourism.

Back to Top

How safe is medical treatment abroad?

Whether performed in your region or across borders, a medical procedure always carries some degree of risk. Complications can arise even at respected hospitals in your home country. Whether it’s local medical treatment or medical tourism, treatment quality is not necessarily reflected by price or brand name. This is why research is important before you embark on any medical journey.

If you’re planning on international travel, don’t forget to look into your legal rights. Different countries have different laws and policies regarding your rights as a patient. As mentioned earlier, you could be eligible for an EHIC. If you’re working with a medical tourism facilitator or are covered by health insurance, you can check with them about patient rights.

For general safety concerns, familiarize yourself with the destination. Learn about the weather, culture, language and places in and around your travel destination. Here are quick medical travel profiles for:

One other risk of medical tourism and long flights in general is the possibility of deep vein thrombosis. Ask your doctors about your medical procedure and traveling. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises patients not to travel seven to 10 days after cosmetic surgery. Chest or abdominal surgery patients should not travel for 10 days after their procedure due to airplane cabin pressure.
Safe and effective medical care is available in most metropolises around the world. Globalization and the surge of medical tourism have underscored the importance of tourist safety, international standards and quality adherence.

Back to Top

How do I find trustworthy clinics and hospitals?

Researching online and asking people you know who have had experience with medical tourism is a good start, but don’t stop there. It’s always a good idea to contact the clinic or hospital directly.

  • Look for clinic and hospital accreditations from organizations like the Joint Commission International. Awards and relevant certificates of recognition are good indicators of quality care.
  • Ask about safety and quality data including infection rates and their hand hygiene program. Also inquire about clinic or hospital resources such as the equipment necessary for your medical procedure.
  • Check for tie-ups with recognized hospitals. Johns Hopkins, Cleveland Clinic and the University of Pennsylvania have partnerships with international institutions.
  • Seek the professional opinion of your local doctor, regarding doctor and clinic referrals.
  • Learn more about the doctors at the foreign medical institution, especially the specialists who could be handling your case. Check their credentials and certifications.

For further discussion on how to find the right clinic or hospital for your medical tourism agenda, read more about our tips.

Back to Top

What are the travel requirements for medical tourism?

Traveling internationally will require you to have a valid passport. Policies and the process of obtaining your passport can differ based on where you are from. If you’re in a hurry, you can request to expedite your passport for a fee.

Visas, on the other hand will depend on where you are from, as well as your travel destination. For U.S. citizens, most popular medical tourism destinations do not require a visa. Exceptions, however include India, Turkey, Brazil and Jordan.

Back to Top

Should I bring a medical travel companion?

You might consider having someone accompany you on the trip, if you feel ill at ease traveling overseas. Aside from personal preference, deciding to bring along a companion is dependent on your procedure, the aftercare and recovery time necessary, and your other planned activities. It would be advisable to have a companion if you’re planning on major treatments. This way, you have someone on hand who knows your medical history and your preferences, should any complications arise.

If your medical insurance includes an international health plan, they may cover expenses for a travel companion. Always check with your insurance provider.

Back to Top

How about making my medical holiday a family vacation?

Turning your medical trip into a family vacation or vice versa will need serious consideration and careful planning. Undergoing surgery can be stressful enough, and adding other stress factors (like traveling with small children) might be counterproductive during recovery. This may not be a critical issue for more minor treatments, however. Whether or not a family vacation should be arranged will again depend on your medical procedure and other travel plans.

Back to Top

Can I coordinate my medical procedure with my travel accommodations?

If you’re working with a hospital liaison or a medical tourism facilitator, your travel itinerary is likely to be ironed out and could include:

  • Airport pick-up and send-off
  • Transfers between your hotel and the clinic or hospital
  • Personal assistance at the clinic or hospital
  • Coordination with the hospital, regarding your medical appointments

Medical institutions with international patient services like Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok are more likely to take care of similar arrangements, including translator and interpreter services. Different medical institutions and medical travel companies will have varied services, so you will have to double-check the details.

If you’re working with a travel agency, they may be able to assist you with transfers to and from your hospital and hotel. But you’ll need to keep track of your medical appointments and follow-up with their services. It would be helpful to be familiar with how to get to the hospital, your hotel and the airport on your own. Check how accessible these places are to each other so you have an idea regarding your routes, travel time and preparation, especially for your medical appointments.

Back to Top

What is the role of my local primary physician?

Getting a first opinion from your primary physician at home is a good starting point, according to Dr. Martin Makary of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in an interview with AARP. An evaluation of your health and your fitness to travel may be conducted, especially if you have a pre-existing medical condition.

Prepare for some pushback when broaching the subject of medical tourism with your doctor, as it is a sensitive topic. Remember to discuss with him or her about sharing your medical records with the medical professionals at your chosen healthcare institution. Be sure your local doctor is also willing to coordinate any necessary aftercare. Follow-up care is just as important as the actual procedure.

Back to Top

How safe is my medical data?

Healthcare information must be kept confidential for security reasons. For U.S.-based medical tourists, this is especially important as the transfer of patient medical records must comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Action (HIPAA) guidelines.

Sharing your medical records requires your consent. It’s advisable to share detailed medical information only with your healthcare providers and similar data-secure institutions that may be HIPAA-compliant.

At MEDtrip, for instance, we do not require people to share their medical records with us. Inquiries are made directly to the medical institutions. Our website also employs an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate, which allows for the secure transmission of sensitive information like login data and other personal information.

Back to Top

What should I expect when I get to my medical tourism destination?

The medical travel facilitator or the medical institution will ideally take care of receiving your medical records and arranging your medical appointments.

Most international medical institutions and medical tourism facilitators will include transportation. It’s likely that they will have an English-speaking concierge pick you up at the airport. If transport services are not included, the medical institution or tourism agency will at least point you in the right direction when arranging this on your own.

Depending on your prearrangement, you will either head to your hotel directly or to the medical institution for consultation and tests. International hospitals and clinics will usually also have a patient facilitator to assist you throughout your hospital stay.

If you’re planning on joining activities and seeing attractions in your destination, schedule your trip with enough time to do so before your procedure. Depending on your treatment, you may receive post-surgery therapy where you’re staying after discharge from the hospital or clinic.

Touring after your treatment will depend on your travel destination, your medical procedure and the activities involved. Before making any touring plans, especially if you’re thinking of activities post-treatment, consult your doctor and get clearance from the medical professionals at your chosen institution. Bring up specific activities you have in mind such as swimming, sunbathing or drinking alcohol.

Back to Top

What happens after my medical trip?

Before leaving the clinic or hospital, ask for a copy of all your medical records in a language that you and your doctor at home can understand. Your records would include lab results, x-rays and other images. If the medical institution will be sending it to you digitally, ensure that you receive the files.

If you have opted for a medical tourism agency, your facilitator will usually handle this. Make sure that this is taken care of, as it is important to aftercare.

Aftercare is just as critical as the medical procedure you undergo. After treatment, hospitals and clinics will give you aftercare instructions. Take note of these and clarify all points with them. Arrange to see your local physician as soon as you are back home, and bring your medical records. Make sure you heed the instructions for aftercare and that you do the necessary follow-ups.

Back to Top

Related Post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *