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Hearts, Hips, Angio, and Gastric

by Nick Jacobs

During the last two weeks, I have been exposed to international vendors promoting their wares to the business community. Charts like this one have recently gotten everyone’s attention:

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We know, for example, that you will wait 1.5 years for elective surgery in England and 2.5 years for the same surgery in Scotland. We have also seen numerous instances where our Canadian neighbors have crossed our borders for timely procedures. Several companies are beginning to seriously study the potential savings garnered by encouraging their employees to go abroad for complex surgeries due mainly to the lower costs, costs which can be nine times cheaper for the same surgery as here in the United States. Just to put this in prospective for you, one of the countries listed above indicated that over 50,000 patients came to their facility from the United States alone last year.

Bangkok’s Bumrundgrad Hospitals, the Apollo and Escort Hospitals in India, often tout English speaking employees and American and British trained staff. Most of the hospitals are Joint Commission accredited and also have met the standards established by the International Organization for Standardization. Interestingly enough, many of these international facilities exceed the quality provided by even the most prominent U.S. hospitals.

Over 60% of those underinsured or uninsured have indicated that they would get on a plane and fly to some beautiful exotic place to seek treatment.

Although this is just the beginning of medical tourism, it is real, and, due to the fact that the earth is now flat, this program will grow. In fact, our medical center is looking to begin Mayo type importing of tourists in order to remain competitive and establish growth in a declining population area.

In a former life, I served as the President of a Convention and Visitors Bureau, and now, as the President of a Medical Center, there is no doubt in my mind that medical tourism is real and could have a phenomenal future.

Any comments or thoughts on this topic will be embraced.


  Josef Woodman wrote @ May 7th, 2007 at 4:00 pm

As author of the recently-published consumer guidebook, “Patients
Beyond Borders,” I agree the age of the contemporary international medical traveler has arrived. Yet, in attending the World Health Care Congress in DC, it remains clear that, despite 20+% growth, medical tourism will remain consumer-driven & grassroots until infrastructure builds, including health insurance coverage for medical tourists, increased cross-border medical transparency and the ever-present malpractice/liability concerns.

Yet, for the more than 200,000 Americans, Britons and Canadians who will travel abroad for treatment this year, the 30-80% savings are real enough, and the overwhelming majority will return home successfully treated–and evangelistic about the quality of care received.

Un- and under-insured baby boomers aging into expensive, financially challenging medical procedures are the driving force of medical tourism. So long as vast, ungainly cost-performance disparity remains, international medical travel will continue to grow and prosper.

  KB wrote @ May 8th, 2007 at 5:15 am

US patients are attracted to South and Southeast Asian countries and even to Mexico (since it’s so near) mainly because they offer good quality, low-cost and no-wait medical services. Many private hospitals in these countries maintain best practice standards of care, are JCI/JCAHO/ISO accredited, offer world-class treatment and employ medical professionals who are educated in accredited universities in the US, UK, Australia, etc., so there is no doubt about their credibility, reliability and quality. And, after one has recovered, these countries offer a variety of tourist destinations, where one can rejuvenate.

To help the global medical consumers connect with hospitals overseas, a few medical tourism companies or medical tourism operators have sprung up in the recent past. I personally used the services of a US based medical tourism facilitator called Healthbase (http://www.healthbase.com) to help me find a hospital in Thailand for cosmetic surgery. Their service was excellent. However, I’d say that one must do their homework before boarding that money-saving flight to India or Singapore or Thailand or anywhere.

  Alfred J. Fortin wrote @ May 8th, 2007 at 11:15 am

Medical tourism is another sign of the increasing globalization of health care. The flatter the world gets, the more our ethnically diverse population becomes affluent and the more health care costs rise domestically, the more attractive these services become. Insurers may not be there yet, but the numbers are begin to attract attention. There is also the competitive aspect to medical tourism. If these foreign entities become a real option, that is, if people can overcome the strong local bias for care in their back yard, will this once again raise the bar for pricing and services from local hospitals? Not yet, I suspect, but soon.

  Sholto wrote @ May 8th, 2007 at 11:33 am

Another area where the foreign and local experience differs is around the overall value proposition of the surgical package which is typically fixed price, offers longer stay in hospital and rehabilitation centres and where extras are required, they are substantially cheaper. For this reason may patient elect to have check ups since they are so cheap.

  Timothy Collins wrote @ May 20th, 2007 at 6:59 pm

Medical tourism,does offer cost saving benefits,but what when there is a complication of a procedure?If patient is on Coma?or requires extensive follow up after the procedure,who will be providing these.
These are some issues which need to be assessed before boarding the flight for a major surgical procedure..

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