MEDICAL TOURISM: WHAT IS IT AND WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

This article was written by Tracy Griffith, a Certified Medical Travel Agent and founder of Healthcare Adventures, for the July edition of  “Escape Artist Insiders” Magazine. Escape Artist is the world’s largest and oldest ex-pat resource for taking your life international. Click here to view this month’s issue in full as well as follow future collaborations between Tracy Griffith and Escape Artist.

 

Well, I’ve been in the healthcare field for 25 years as a Registered Nurse. I’ve worked in all kinds of clinical areas: the Operating Room, the Emergency Room, the Endoscopy suites, and other sub-acute units. I’ve witnessed the good, the bad, and the ugly of the “backside” of healthcare in the U.S. I’ve seen physicians and nurses make do with aging equipment, poor staffing, and under-supportive leadership that fails to deliver the tools they need to perform at their best. All this while you are charged a premium price tag. Well, I’m here to tell you there are “less developed” countries equaling or surpassing what many consider the “elite” healthcare standards here in the U.S. and Canada. 

A lot of people I talk to can’t figure out why anyone would leave the great healthcare we have in the U.S. or Canada to have something done in another country. “Those third-world countries can’t possibly give the type of healthcare we get here at home.” 

I’ve spent time visiting multiple hospitals in Cabo and Cancun in Mexico, Costa Rica, and Panama touring their operating rooms, endoscopy suites, and PRIVATE patient rooms. Most of these hospitals enjoy the Joint Commission International (JCI) or Accreditation Canada International (ACI) recognition hospitals here in the U.S. and Canada have. Their medical equipment and supplies are the most up-to-date and sourced from the same suppliers and companies as in the U.S. The insides of these hospitals are squeaky clean. Staff are constantly wiping down areas, mopping floors, and ensuring everything looks its best. The biggest difference is the exterior of these hospital buildings in these countries aren’t quite as “pretty” as we see in the States. The building may not have extravagant architecture or lobbies resembling luxury hotels. But if your bill was decreased to a fraction of what you were going to pay out of pocket for your procedure… would you care if it looked like the “Hilton”? What if you could fly down and have your surgery next week, that’s right, next WEEK, instead of having to get in line with the rest of the people who needed a procedure and wait for months or years to have your procedure? Would you still care how pretty the outside of the building is? Or would you want a quality doctor to provide a quality procedure in a quality hospital at a decent cost? 

What I’m talking about here is FREEDOM to choose your healthcare. Many of us have seen the erosion of our freedom to choose our doctor, facility, procedure, and timeframe to the whims of medical “gatekeepers” such as insurance companies, large hospital corporations, or government rationing. You can start to take back some of your medical freedom through medical tourism. Imagine choosing to see the doctor you wanted to see and then spending 30 to 45 minutes discussing your options as opposed to being herded through some “clinic” at the Mega-hospital where the “doc of the day” can only spend five to ten minutes with you. Then only to refer you to another provider/surgeon you have never met. 

Or who has experienced the fear and uncertainty of not knowing what the cost of their procedure will be? With medical tourism, your costs are pre-determined, so there are no surprises. You can also expand your choice of brand or type of medical care or product you receive. For example, many patients in the U.S. who undergo joint replacements every year receive the brand of prosthesis their surgeon or hospital is aligned with. Wouldn’t you want the freedom to choose the brand and type of prosthesis, which is best for you, after consulting with your surgeon? Do you want to save money on your total knee replacement by having a no-frills, semi-private room but your surgeon only works at the “Mega-Bucks” Medical Center? Last year I had to have just that—a total knee replacement. As you can see from the quote received from my surgeon, I had the choice of hospital and brand of prosthesis. 

Hopefully, by now, you can see how looking abroad can increase your choices for medical treatments. But what are some things you should look for when seeking a Medical Tourism Agent? To start, your agent should be a Certified Medical Travel Agent. This certification signifies this person has invested the time and money in learning the ins and outs of the industry. They will be able to assist you in deciding if seeking care abroad is right for you versus what options you have at home. You will want someone with knowledge and experience in the part of the world you are looking to go to. While Malaysia has many world-class facilities for medical tourism, an agent there probably wouldn’t be very knowledgeable about opportunities in Mexico. Your agent should have personally visited and vetted the facilities and providers they represent or recommend. Finally, your agent should have some background in healthcare themselves. This characteristic helps your agent to truly understand and recognize quality providers and facilities through the vetting process. This will lead you to have a higher quality experience with your agent than if they were just a “salesperson”. 

In addition to helping you find the right fit for your medical needs, the agent may also offer other services. Such as ground transportation, flight and hotel arrangements, setting up excursion adventures, and any post-op therapies/appointments that may be needed regarding your procedure. Think of it as a full concierge-type service. Depending on your budget, a medical tourism company can do as much or as little as you would like to help you plan the procedure. 

For a re-cap… Millions of individuals benefit from medical tourism every year. Speaking with your healthcare team, including a professional medical tourism agency, can provide you with the information you need to give you the results you are looking for. Among the many reasons a person may choose to have a medical procedure abroad include: 

  • LOWER COSTS – Medical tourists may find they can save a massive amount in medical bills by choosing to have a procedure in another country for a few different reasons. One reason is the United States has a higher cost of medication and diagnostic testing than other countries. Hospital stays are generally more affordable for people in other countries when compared to the United States. This includes hospital meals, testing, and rehabilitation services. The cost of labor is lower in other countries, resulting in a lower overall cost for patients as compared to in the United States and Canada. Even if you do have insurance, the lowered costs can still be quite substantial. 
  • ACCESS TO QUALITY CARE – Medical tourism provides an affordable option for those seeking procedures and still want to maintain an elevated level of care. A medical tourism agency can help to ensure you have access to high-quality facilities and professionally trained staff that have been personally vetted by their team. 
  • INSURANCE INCENTIVES – While many insurance companies and policy plans can vary on individual coverage, many insurance companies have started to promote safe medical tourism by offering insurance incentives. These incentives are often in the form of medical discounts, such as lower medical bills. Calling your insurance provider can help provide you with more information on your coverage, as some insurance companies only provide coverage for out-ofcountry emergencies. I researched pricing for my own knee replacement surgery last year was impressed with both the price and the inclusive services from touch-down to physiotherapy.  Tracy Griffith is a Certified Medical Travel Agent and the founder of Healthcare Adventures, a medical tourism company specializing in Mexico and Central America. After spending 25 years as a Registered Nurse, she stepped away from the clinical side of nursing. Tracy uses her experience in the healthcare industry to find the best physicians and hospitals for her clients by helping them locate medical and dental specialists to fit their needs. If you want to contact Tracy, click here. 
  • PRIVATE LUXURY – In other countries, medical tourism is a booming industry as the money is typically reinvested into the local economy. This means these countries can create more spa-like experiences for you, allowing you to be pampered. Patients are often offered larger, more accessible rooms and advanced services to help make their stay more comfortable. This may include a private suite, one-on-one care, and advanced rehab services. 
  • TALENTED SURGEONS – Many other countries are known for their different areas of expertise, as well as for providing medical tourists with access to talented surgeons. This may come as a surprise to many medical tourists, as they may not be educated on the requirements to become a surgeon in other countries. However, many surgeons and physicians have been trained in the United States or went through an English-speaking residency program before returning home to their own country. Even if they did not travel to the United States for their education, these surgeons still complete a strict certification process. 
  • VACATION – We all deserve a vacation from time to time! So, why not have one alongside your procedure? You can take advantage of your stay in another country by scheduling vacation time before or after your procedure, allowing you to have time to sightsee, try the local cuisine, and learn about the culture. However, it is important to note you may have instructions given to you by your healthcare team for before and after your procedure. Even though it may be tempting to stray from these guidelines, doing so could jeopardize your health. Always make sure to follow your doctor’s recommendations closely. 

In closing, I hope you can see having a choice where you obtain your healthcare can be just as important as where you choose to live or bank; whether you like the healthcare in your country or whether you think it could be improved. At the end of the day, it’s always good to know you have the freedom to make the choices best for your life.

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