by Joseph Gustaitis
Both American corporations and American insurance companies have begun taking note of the savings to be had overseas. Recently HR Magazine, a publication for professionals in the field of human resources, predicted that more and more companies will offer medical tourism as one of their benefits. Some have already started. And some state legislatures are reportedly considering offering medical travel to state workers. Since the cost of some procedures can be so much lower overseas, some companies, as a way of encouraging medical tourism, may not only pay for airfare and other expenses but also give employees a percentage of the money saved.
To facilitate the connection between Americans needing medical care and distant hospitals, a small industry of medical travel companies has sprung up. These companies typically locate hospitals and doctors, arrange flights and hotels, and schedule operations for people wishing to have their medical care abroad. The best ones have nurses and physicians on their staffs who visit foreign hospitals to evaluate the facilities and the credentials of the doctors and make sure the hospitals maintain a high quality of care. Some have been known to screen clients to make sure they are not too sick to travel a great distance. Experts warn, however, that not all of the many medical tourism firms that appear on the Internet are reliable. If you decide to use a medical tourism company rather than make your own arrangements, it’s important to find out how long a company has been in business and whether it has medical personnel on its staff. An organization called the Medical Tourism Association, whose stated aim is to promote high standards and transparency in the medical tourism field, offers a list of medical travel facilitators who are association members here.
While much of what one hears about medical tourism from foreign countries and travel companies paints a very rosy picture, this general perception should be taken with a big grain of salt. After all, much of the information comes from those who have a vested interest in promoting medical tourism. There are no hard statistics comparing care in the United State to care overseas (and much overseas care can be very good). But common sense says that there are risks associated with medical tourism that go above and beyond the risks of medical care in the United States. The following are some of them:
With these risks in mind, how can anyone feel safe going halfway around the world for a medical procedure? To address this issue, the AMA has developed guidelines to make sure the overseas medical treatment people get is safe and effective. The guidelines are for employers, insurance companies, and other groups that facilitate medical tourism, but they give a good sense of what is involved in keeping medical tourism safe and effective.
If you are considering going abroad for a medical procedure, the first step is to make sure that you know exactly what procedure you need. Say, for example, that you want to have weight-loss surgery. There are several different ways it can be done. You should have a thorough discussion with your US doctors ahead of time so you know which of the procedures they recommend and why. That way, you’ll already be armed with solid professional advice if the overseas doctor starts talking about using a different procedure instead.
The next step is to find the right hospital. Make sure that a recognized international body such as the Joint Commission International (JCI) accredits the facility. JCI is a division of Joint Commission Resources (JCR), the not-for-profit affiliate of the largest accreditor of health-care organizations in the United States. The Web site of the JCI contains a complete list of accredited organizations, such as hospitals, arranged alphabetically by country. The JCI sets detailed accreditation standards stipulating that, among other things, facilities use established methods of preventing infections and gathering infection statistics. They also require that accredited facilities have standards of physician certification and a system for tracking patients as they progress through their course of care. The JCI furthermore insists that facilities have translators available. Another accrediting body is the International Society for Quality in Health Care (ISQua). Unlike JCI, ISQua does not accredit individual hospitals or other health-care facilities. Instead, it accredits regional and national accrediting bodies. So if a hospital you are considering tells you it’s accredited and it’s not on JCI’s list, look to see if the organization that gave the hospital its accreditation is itself accredited by ISQua.
Last Reviewed on July 11, 2012
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