More and more Americans are traveling to Europe, the Far East and Mexico for medical treatment.
Key reason: Low prices on top-quality care.
In the past, this kind of medical tourism has been associated with elective plastic surgery and experimental treatments not available in the US. But two years ago, more than 55,000 Americans went abroad for necessary but nonemergency operations, such as angioplasty, knee replacement and cataract surgery. Less expensive labor and administrative costs make foreign treatment 50% to 75% cheaper. That can be a bargain even with the additional costs of airfare and accommodations. Costs of medical procedures vary widely, within the US and internationally, but here are a few examples…
*US insurance companies currently do not pay for overseas surgery if it is not an emergency
- Cataract surgery in the US costs about $3,000 an eye...in Eastern Europe, it costs $1,200 an eye.
- Repairing a herniated disk in the US can range from $30,000 to $90,000...in Bangkok, Thailand, it starts at $3,500.
- A total knee replacement in the US is about $48,000...in India, $5,500.
- Angioplasty in the US, around $80,000... in Singapore, $15,000.
- Root canal in the US can range from $500 to $900...in Mexico, less than $300.
Finding The Best
Flying thousands of miles from home for an operation is not for everyone, but it's worth exploring if you don't have adequate health insurance. Of course, you would want to use only top-quality foreign hospitals and physicians. Here's how to find them…
- Start by word of mouth. Ask friends and associates who have had medical procedures overseas for recommendations. Also ask doctors who specialize in the type of surgery you need.
- Check with Harvard Medical International (HMI). This is a self-supporting, not-for-profit subsidiary of Harvard Medical School. Its role is to extend internationally the school's tradition of improving the quality of health care. HMI is affiliated with dozens of overseas medical institutions and hospitals. 617-535-6400, www.bmi.bms.harvard.edu).
- Contact the Joint Commission International (JCI), the global arm of the institution that accredits US hospitals, JCI hospitals have to meet rigorous standards of patient care, medication safety and infection control. (630-792-5000, www.jointcommissioninternational.org).
- Choose a hospital with an international patient coordinator on staff. He/she will help you coordinate doctor's appointments, diagnostics and treatment at the hospital, as well as arrange postoperative recuperation. He also can help with practical matters, such as airport pickup, currency exchange, hospital meal choices and interpreters if necessary.
- Ask the foreign doctor/hospital for references from Americans who have had the same type of treatment
Top Foreign Hospitals
These are foreign hospitals I would trust for myself and my family...
- Apollo Hospitals has hospitals in Delhi, Chennai and Hyderabad that cater to foreigners and specialize in heart-related procedures.
- Wockhardt Hospitals Group has hospitals in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) and Bangalore that specialize in heart, eye, bone, brain and spinal surgery. Associated with HMI. www.wockbardthospitals.net.
- The Max Hospital, New Delhi, offers state-of-the-art surgery for brain and pituitary tumors, aneurysms and vascular malformations, www.max healthcare.in/corporate/index.asp.
- Bumrungrad Hospital is Bangkok's leading health-care institution. Specialties include endocrinology, nephrology and neurology. www.bum rungrad.com.
- Samitivej Hospitals has branches in Bangkok and Chonburi. Specialties include cardiac and cancer surgery, www.samitivej.co.th/index_en.aspx.
- Parkway Group Healthcare. Three hospitals specializing in cardiac surgery and neurosurgery-East Shore, Gleneagles and Mount Elizabeth, www.spac.sg.
- The De Smet Clinic, Ghent specializes in hip-related surgery. www.bip-clinic.com/en/htmlhome_en.html
- Hospitales Angeles has six hospitals in cities such as Tijuana and Juarez. Specializes in neurosurgery and dental surgery. www.mediks.com (site is in Spanish only).
Getting Quality Care
- Ask for a full diagnosis from your own doctor first. Develop a treatment plan you both feel comfortable with. Your doctor should be willing to forward all diagnostic information and communicate with the foreign surgeon to discuss your condition. Once you arrive, the foreign doctor also will evaluate you prior to surgery.
- Bring a family member or friend. You need someone for emotional support and to serve as your advocate. That person should bring with him/her your health-care power of attorney, which will be honored by international hospitals. This document allows him to make health decisions for you if you are unable to communicate your own wishes.
While a second person doubles the cost of the airfare, most foreign hospitals will allow a companion to stay as a guest in your room for no extra charge.
- Know the costs. Most international hospitals and/or health-care providers expect 50% of their fee to book the surgery and the rest of the cost of treatment at the time of admission. If complications prevent you from returning home immediately, hospitals will accommodate you longer, but ask for the rates so that you can plan accordingly. Also, you should be able to change any airfare you book multiple times with minimal penalty.
Important: Check with your insurance company to make sure it will pay for the treatment of any complications once you arrive home.
- Confirm that the hospital gives you the same rights that you have in the US. Reputable hospitals and surgeons will guarantee these rights in writing before you travel overseas. You should have the right to...
- Receive complete and current information concerning your diagnosis, treatment and prognosis in terms that you can understand, including serious side effects or risks, problems related to recovery and the likelihood of success.
- Have access to all information contained in your medical records.
- Accept or refuse any treatment and be informed of the consequences of any such refusal.
- Request consultation with the hospital ethics/oversight committee regarding complaints and ethical issues involved in your care.
- Be transferred to another facility at your request or when it is medically appropriate.
- Examine your bill and receive an explanation of the charges
- Understand that your legal rights are limited if medical malpractice is committed overseas. You cannot sue in American courts, and most foreign countries strictly limit malpractice damage awards.
Helpful: If your overseas doctor has a medical board certification in the US, you can complain to the board and seek sanctions.
Avoid catching a cold or the flu by taking H the dietary supplement lactoferrin. People who travel on planes often get colds within a week of travel. The supplement, which is made from whey, is identical to the lactoferrin protein that occurs naturally in the gut. This protein boosts the production of immunoglobulins, compounds that fight bacteria and viruses.
Helpful: Take 200 mg of lactoferrin twice daily two days before you fly, and continue taking it for three days afterward. It is available in health-food stores.