On the Move

5 Reasons Why Medical Tourism Works

Just the mention of Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines, or India will have most friends and family cooing “how exotic” or “sounds tropical.” But then mention that you’re considering a medical procedure in any of those places and watch those warm reactions turn cold. And yet all of these countries are well-established destinations for those seeking medical treatment abroad.

So, the question is… why would anyone ever want to consider going abroad for medical treatment? And what makes these countries so special for those seeking to do so?

1.  Cost, Cost, and Cost
Cost is always a no-brainer. Even factoring in airline ticket and hotel, most people stand to save thousands of dollars on medical bills by opting to seek quality treatment in these countries. This is especially key for those whose insurance does not cover any/enough of the treatment or medications. Using typical U.S. costs as a basis of comparison against some of these locations, average savings are highest in India (65–90%), followed by Thailand (50–75%), and then Singapore (25–40%). For a more “inside look” at cost comparisons in Thailand, take the time and check out this CNN special.

Bangkok’s Bumrungrad International Hospital goes the extra distance for those new to the concept of medical tourism (and to those sincerely considering a procedure) by providing examples, based on actual invoices, of total costs for a whole slew of procedures. For those in Bangkok, though, you might want to keep in mind that it is always best to shop around. There are other options offering some of the same services at significantly lower costs than Bumrungrad even.

2.  International Accreditation and Quality
Who cares how much they are saving if the tradeoff is some back-alley hospital where you hope for the best? Agreed. But no one is talking about those.

Numerous hospitals have made their mark over the years by boasting doctors and facilities that meet, if not far exceed, Western standards when it comes to training and utilization of the most current technologies. The truly high-end hospitals, such as Bangkok’s Bumrungrad, always have doctors on staff who have done training overseas and are in fact American Board certified. Wait times are rarely long, customer service is usually quite high, and the nurses and other staff speak passable to excellent English. Having been to more prominent hospitals as well as random/normal ones, this is something I have witnessed personally.

India, too, has made its mark in this area, boasting a host of hospitals with highly trained surgeons who perform complicated surgeries.

And St. Luke’s Medical Center in the Philippines is yet another world-class option.

For more, check out this top 10 list, which features two hospitals in India, among others in Asia, and around the world.

3.  Regulation Bureaucracy (or Lack of)
There are nearly a million Americans who travel abroad every year for medical reasons. With them in mind, there are a variety of procedures which are not yet approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) but, in some cases, are the better option. By going overseas, people in these situations can at least make more informed decisions for surgery or treatment in regard to price, risk, and recovery.

Many procedures (and their related technologies) take years to get approved by the FDA, which in many cases can result in undue pain as well as frustration. The MAGEC system, for example, is a technology that uses noninvasive yet extendable magnetic rods to treat spinal deformities, mainly in pediatric care. Final approval by the FDA was received in March 2013. Prior to this, the system had already been in use by 150+ surgeons in 24 countries to treat over 750 children.

Just to clarify, this is not to claim that the FDA is in any way bad. But only that options might exist sooner in other countries due to respective differences in risk assessment or how clinical trials are regulated.

4.  Privacy / Simplicity
Getting admitted to a private hospital in Asia means that you will not have any government healthcare system monitoring your records. In addition, you can generally avoid having to navigate the red tape nightmare of health insurance that many Americans are forced to endure. As the costs are substantially lower in the first place, many find it more cost-effective to simply pay 100% out of pocket if their health maintenance organization (HMO) doesn’t cover any/enough of the cost of hospital visits or procedures overseas.

“If” should be stressed when talking about this, as it is important to point out that some U.S.-based HMOs, such as Blue Cross/Blue Shield, are now starting to expand their coverage in reaction to the recent trends in medical tourism.

For those who are uninsured, underinsured, or have relatively simple needs, it is just a matter of getting checked, treated, paying, and then getting on with your day.

This is especially ideal for those seeking dental care in places like Thailand or the Philippines, as there is an endless number of modern dental practices offering services at a fraction of the cost most anywhere else.

5.  Two Birds with One Stone
If you are not laid up in the hospital for too long, make the most of your trip by getting in some beach time, sampling some exotic dishes, and finding any number of other fun distractions.

If you are only seeking dental work or outpatient services, this is a great excuse—if one is needed—to get away and see someplace new.

H/T: Patients Beyond Borders