Latitudes Magazine – Medical Tourism
Medical Tourism is featured in the January/February issue of Latitudes Magazine, the inflight magazine for American Eagle Airlines.
It may seem strange to see the word medical describing a type of tourism; but, believe it or not, there is a growing phenomenon called medical tourism that will likely shape the way many Americans receive healthcare in the near future. Medical tourism is when individuals travel abroad or to other destinations in their home countries to receive medical care. While healthcare travel is a relatively common concept outside the United States, most Americans have never considered traveling abroad for affordable, high quality medical care. Over the past century, the United States has dominated the global medical market, causing many Americans to believe that North America is the only place to find outstanding medical care. However, as hundreds of thousands of Americans are discovering, this is no longer the case.
“It is possible to find top-rated doctors, trained in world-class universities and hospitals with state-of-the-art equipment overseas,” said Patrick Goodness, CEO of the medical tourism marketing firm The Goodness Company. “The rapid growth of medical tourism stems from the high cost of procedures in the U.S. and the wide availability of exceptional quality, truly affordable healthcare overseas. Many Americans are discovering savings of 50 percent or more just by crossing the border.”
The idea of traveling to receive the best medical care has been around since the ancient Greeks traveled across borders to ancient healing shrines called Asklepeia. For decades, Europeans have been traveling to nearby countries or to Africa, Asia or South America for comparable quality medical care at substantial savings. Many also come to the United States on a regular basis for healthcare. In the past 30 years, the ease of air travel and its more affordable prices has made traveling to other countries for healthcare more convenient and no longer something only available to the wealthy.
According to Goodness, medical tourism is a critical healthcare alternative that will only continue to grow. “Many Americans simply cannot afford health insurance. In 2010, nearly 50 million Americans had no health insurance. More than 130 million Americans don’t have dental coverage and more than 100 million Americans don’t go to the dentist, even when they know they should, because they cannot afford it,” he said. “As healthcare costs in the U.S. continue to skyrocket, many people will discover that their medical insurance comes with extremely high deductibles and find it impossible to cover the out-of-pocket expenses. In some cases, the out-of-pocket costs could be the equivalent to what the entire surgery would cost at a medical facility outside the U.S.” For instance, a heart valve replacement can easily cost over $150,000 in the United States, said Goodness, but the same surgery in Colombia or Costa Rica might be $24,000. For families without insurance, a $150,000 procedure may force some to sell their homes or cash in their retirement accounts to care for a loved one. A $24,000 procedure allows patients and their families to charge the procedure on their credit cards.
In general, it is possible to save 50 to 80 percent of the cost of a medical procedure by getting treatment abroad. Goodness gives a personal example of the cost savings available just across the border. Suffering from a torn knee ligament, Goodness received several quotes for surgery in the U.S. He found the procedure would cost anywhere from $20,000 to $50,000 in the U.S. After reviewing many hospitals around the world, he finally decided to receive the surgery at Almater Hospital in Mexicali, Mexico, which came highly recommended by many online sources and provided him a comprehensive quote of $4,200.
Almater Hospital, located in Mexicali, Mexico, a 1.5 hour drive from San Diego, Calif., is just one of the many overseas private medical centers with state-of-the art surgical technology and top-rated operating rooms, specialists and surgical staff. Almater is also nationally and internationally accredited and is one of the most popular medical tourism hospitals in Mexico, serving hundreds of American and Canadian patients every year.
The standard of international hospital accreditation is the Joint Commission International (JCI). The JCI is the international division of the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO), the organization that accredits more than 90 percent of U.S. hospitals. The JCI standards for international hospitals are very similar to the safety and quality standards required by American hospitals.
Just off the coast of Florida in the stunning turquoise waters of the Caribbean, the recently renovated Bahamas Medical Center in Nassauis currently in the process of being accredited. Its partner hospital, Doctors Hospital, an accredited 72-bed acute critical care center is the only JCIaccredited facility in all of the Caribbean.
“Our 30,000-square-feet new facility can match any hospital in the U.S. In fact, many of our physicians are board certified and have been trained in the U.S.,” said Barry Rassin, president of Doctors Hospital and the Bahamas Medical Center. Rassin’s goal for the center is to provide the same services and treatments as American hospitals at 30 to 40 percent lower costs. Rassin explained that many patients are coming to the center for cosmetic, bariatric and spine surgery as well as dental implants. In addition to the cost savings, Rassin said many people consider treatment in the
Bahamas, because critical medical procedures are readily available in the Bahamas and many other nations that are not currently approved in the U.S.
“For men with prostate cancer, the Bahamas Medical Center offers a successful, minimally invasive treatment known as HIFU that utilizes high intensity focused ultrasound to reduce the cancer, allowing effective long-term cancer control, without invasive surgery. This procedure is also available in Canada, Europe and many other nations but is still not available in the U.S.,” said Rassin. “Since we are not restricted by the FDA, we can offer this and many other cutting-edge procedures that are approved for use in other countries, but simply not available in the U.S. Our HIFU prostate cancer treatment is attracting the attention of many American doctors who are aware of the procedure and are now referring patients to our medical center in the Bahamas.”
For decades, international patients have traveled to the U.S. for high-quality medical care. Additionally, many U.S. residents travel within the U.S. to take advantage of world-class specialists and globally recognized medical centers. These destination-driven facilities include the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, which is ranked No. 1 for cardiology and heart surgery; the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., ranked No. 1 in diabetes and gastroenterology care; and the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute at the University of Miami, respected worldwide for its ophthalmologic treatments. Cleveland Clinic’s sister hospital in Weston, Fla., is independently recognized for its cutting-edge procedures in urology, geriatrics and pulmonology. Other South Florida hospitals that receive both national and international patients
include the University of Miami Hospital, Baptist Hospital and Memorial Hospital.
Recognizing the economic opportunities driven by medical tourism, many foreign governments and private medical centers are investing millions of dollars to create technologically advanced international medical facilities. As the concept
of medical tourism continues to expand, some countries are becoming recognized for their excellence and affordability with certain procedures and treatments. For instance, Mexico is known for dental care, orthopedic and bariatric procedures; Costa Rica for dental care and orthopedic surgery; and Colombia for continued advancements in heart surgery and plastic surgery. The Bahamas is growing in popularity for prostate cancer treatments, and executive physical programs that attract busy professionals from the U.S.
Since health insurance doesn’t cover cosmetic procedures and all costs are out-of-pocket, it is not surprising that aesthetic surgery is a driving force in medical tourism. One of the most requested procedures is facial cosmetic surgery.
However, the most popular treatment among medical tourists is liposuction. With its small incisions and relatively quick recovery period, liposuction is an attractive surgical option for medical travelers. Liposuction in the U.S. may cost anywhere for $2,000 to $10,000 per area; abroad it costs on average $1,000 per area.
How can these procedures cost so much less in other countries? The skyrocketing costs of U.S. healthcare have overinflated medical prices in the U.S for many years. Medical care in many foreign countries costs less because of lower wages, lower cost of living, reduced material and labor costs as well as lower overhead for the facility in terms of employee benefits, cost of malpractice insurance and lower priced pharmaceuticals.
Rising U.S. healthcare prices and the emergence of hundreds of high quality international hospitals and medical centers ensures that medical tourism will only increase in popularity. It is also likely that with the ease of available information and the robust websites these foreign facilities offer, more and more people will be searching beyond their countries’ borders for surgical procedures and treatment. As Goodness is quick to remind, “In the new global medical marketplace, a valid passport will ensure that your family has access to a world of high-quality, affordable medical care.”