Thursday, June 18, 2009

How to Pick a Medical Tourism Company

Google any of the most-searched terms for medical tourism industry - medical tourism, medical travel, and overseas health care - and you're going to find a lot of links to medical travel facilitators.

With all of these medical tourism companies out there, how can you differentiate between the reputable companies that have done their due diligence about their network partners and who have a proven track record of putting their patients' first, and the fly-by-the-night companies looking to make a quick buck off of you?

Here are a few key points to look at when considering which medical travel company to use:

Transparent pricing - Before you sign any commitment, you should receive a detailed account of the price you can expect to pay. Some companies break down the price, so you know how much each aspect of your medical journey will cost. Others lump it all into a package price. However they price it, you should be aware of exactly what costs will be covered. Most reputable companies will at the minimum cover the following in the price they charge you:

-Transmittal of your medical records to the surgeon for review

-Assistance in arranging any passports or visas you may need (although the fee to acquire these documents will generally be extra)

-Procedure price (inclusive of doctors' fees, hospital fees, and medications associated with surgery)

-Hospital Room and three meals a day for you and a companion for a specified number of days after surgery
-Flight arrangements

-Hotel costs

-Transportation to and from the airport

-Transportation to and from the hospital for pre- and post-operative care

You may also pay extra for additional amenities such as a cell phone, but this should be clearly stated in your contract.

Communication with your surgeon - A good medical travel company should offer you a free conference call with a surgeon before you have made any financial obligation to go. This benefits you by letting you discuss the different treatment plans available based on your condition. You will be able to determine whether you feel comfortable with the surgeon and with the surgeon's medical philosophy.

Some medical tourism companies will require a certain degree of commitment before scheduling the conference call. MedTrava, for example, prefers to have patients submit any medical records they have and fill out a medical evaluation form. This allows the surgeon to review your records and to direct his comments specifically tailored to your case, making the call much more valuable for you.

Having a conference call with a prospective surgeon does not indicate any obligation on your end. With a reputable medical travel company, if you do not feel comfortable with the surgeon you should be able to ask for a conference call with a different surgeon, or if you choose to seek care elsewhere you can request the return or destruction of your medical records. Complimentary conference calls are a service provided by good medical tourism companies to help you-the patient-feel comfortable about your decision to go abroad for medical care.

References: In addition to setting up a call with a surgeon, your medical tourism facilitator should offer to put you in touch with one of their former patients. Not only will it reassure you that the company has successfully arranged medical tourism packages before, but it will give you a first-hand account of what to expect from your overseas surgery.

Money-back guarantee - If at any point during your medical travel journey - prior to actually having the surgery - you decide not to go through your planned surgery, a good medical travel facilitator will refund you all of the money you have paid, except for the expenses you have already incurred (airfare, hotel, etc.) Your medical tourism company should have enough faith in the doctors and hospitals in their network that they should be willing to offer you this guarantee. It's in our best interest to make sure our patients return home satisfied - even if that means allowing you the option of bowing out of surgery if you don't feel comfortable.

In-country patient care manager - One of the benefits of using a medical travel company for your overseas surgery is the reassurance that you will have someone to rely on for any issues or questions you have. All medical travel facilitators will have a patient care manager to answer your questions and help you out before you set off on your journey. But you should choose a company that can offer you a patient care manager in the country you're traveling to. That way, you'll have a point-of-contact, someone you already know in your destination country. If you ever have any communication issues, you can give them a call and ask them to translate and advocate for you, and they should also visit you in the hospital to check up on you.

Post-operative care - Some medical tourism companies consider their job done once you've returned to your home country after surgery abroad. The distinguishing factor of a really good medical travel company is one that promises to follow up with you after you've returned and who will assist you as much as possible with any questions or issues you have afterwards.


So go back to the Internet and get a few phone numbers of medical travel facilitators. Don't be afraid to pick up the phone and give them a call (a few even have someone available to answer the phones 24/7) and ask them the questions in the list below. Remember, you as the patient are in the driver's seat, so make sure you use a medical tourism company that gives you the care you deserve.

-What charges are included in your price quote?

-When will I be able to speak with the surgeons you recommend?

-Will you set up a call for me with one of your former patients?

-What is your refund policy if I decide not to go through with my planned surgery?

-Do you have a company representative based in the country I'll be traveling to; if so, what support can I expect to receive from them?

-What happens after I return home? Will you still be available to me for any questions I have regarding my recovery?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Medical Tourism Surges Despite Recession

In these recessionary times, almost every industry is seeing significant losses.

Not so with medical tourism.

Hospitals specializing in Medical Tourism report seeing a 30 percent increase in business from international patients last year. Discounting other nationalities, The Deloitte Center for Health Solutions estimated the number of Americans that traveled abroad for healthcare in 2007 at 750,000. As money gets tighter, more people are opting to travel long distances to save on their healthcare bills. Current research indicates that more than one million Americans are traveling overseas to receive medical treatment.

While traveling abroad for medical care is not a new concept, it is only in the past few years that the medical tourism industry has exploded. International hospitals in foreign countries began focusing their marketing efforts on global clientele and medical tourism companies like MedTrava were created to help fill the gap between the patient's need for information, support, and assistance and the hospital's ability to devote its valuable resources to this area.

With the current state of the U.S. healthcare system, it's no wonder that many uninsured Americans are eschewing medical care in their home country in favor of medical tourism. More than 47 million Americans are uninsured and nearly 120 million Americans are underinsured. The statistics for certain states are appalling. Only 76.1 percent of Texans and 79.9 percent of New Mexicans were insured as of 2007. Worse still, only 81 percent of Mississippians and 81.5 percent of Texans could get medical care when they needed it.

President Obama recognizes the problems inherent in the U.S. system of healthcare, saying "Fixing what's wrong with our health care system is no longer a luxury we hope to achieve -- it's a necessity we cannot postpone any longer."

But with no clear idea of how the administration will pay for the estimated $630 billion price tag for its proposed reform, and with Republicans remaining vehemently opposed to nationalized healthcare, it could be a long while until Obama can make good on his promise of "It's time to deliver."

In the meantime, more and more Americans will continue to feel the pinch of healthcare bills. A recent Harvard University study reveals that medical bills play a factor in more than 62 percent of all bankruptcies.

And it's not only the uninsured that are affected by hefty medical bills; 78 percent of those citing medical bills as a reason for filing bankruptcy were actually insured.

Part of this reason is the ever-increasing share of the medical bill insured consumers are expected to pay. According to a survey by the National Opinion Research Center and Watson Wyatt Worldwide, the annual out-of-pocket medical expenses for an insured worker increased 34 percent between 2004 and 2007. The researchers recognized this problem and stated in their report, "in the United States, if you are sick and earn a modest income, then you are probably underinsured -- even if you have employer-based health coverage."

Health Insurance premiums have risen 73 percent since 2000, according to the National Coalition on Health Care (NCHC). Employers and insurance companies are forced to more closely scrutinize their health plans to contain the high costs. Employers are now covering fewer employees, reducing the number of covered procedures and increasing co-pays and co-premiums. In fact, the NCHC states that employee contributions have increased 145 percent since 2000.

Many insured individuals in this situation find that they can save more money by traveling abroad for their treatment than they can by paying these hefty co-pays. Some have been pleasantly surprised to find that their insurance company will reimburse them for part of their medical travel.

While many medical travelers take advantage of cost savings for dental treatments, tummy tucks, facelifts and liposuction, a growing number are opting for open heart surgery and orthopedic procedures like hip or knee replacements overseas. Medical tourism can also allow a patient to take advantage of procedures difficult to receive in the U.S. Surgeries such as Birmingham hip resurfacing and cervical disc replacement were only recently approved by the FDA, so overseas surgeons can have years more experience than U.S. surgeons on these techniques. Procedures like stem cell treatment are also available in some foreign countries.

However, the bulk of the treatments medical tourists are seeking include orthopedics, cardiology, and dental. Patients are able to save up to 80 percent in these fields and receive superior treatment over what they would probably have been able to afford in the U.S. Quality of care at hospitals is comparable in quality to those in the United States. The Joint Commission International, an arm of the organization that accredits American hospitals has accredited nearly 200 hospitals overseas. Many doctors and surgeons are English-speaking and have trained at Western medical schools and teaching hospitals.

Medical travel companies can help expedite and facilitate a patient's treatment. Once a patient contacts a medical tourism facilitator like MedTrava, it can connect them to carefully selected, pre-qualified providers and fast-track the sending of the patient's medical records and set up a conference call with an overseas surgeon in days. Surgery can be scheduled in as quickly as two weeks, and the medical travel facilitator can assist the patient with every aspect of their medical travels, from visa and passport assistance to arranging for a patient care manager, driver, cell phone, and hotel in the destination country.

While traveling abroad for surgery is not usually a person's first choice, the quality of medical treatment available abroad is at an all time high-in some cases, superior to what is available in the United States. And in these days of a recession with no end in sight, being able to save 80 percent on anything without sacrificing any quality is a much-needed reprieve.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Laurie's Testimonial

"After considering dental implants for over 6 months, I took the "plunge" and set about having a series of exams and estimates done in Austin, Texas, my city of residence.

Good thing that MedTrava is based here, too!

After discovering the costs and care associated with my surgery, I decided to go through your company for this pretty extensive procedure. Your staff made it so much easier for me to do than I could have EVER done myself.

From identifying the BEST professionals to screening the procedure thoroughly, you guys were with me every step of the way! I'm now back home and back at work with renewed confidence and mending very well.

I could not have been happier with my surgeon. Her care and sincerity were coupled with professional knowledge that I never anticipated. The decision to have the complete procedure done in hospital was far different and much more manageable than the alternatives I had been offered here in the U.S. on an outpatient basis.

Since I do not have health insurance coverage, this would have never been affordable here and the preservation of my overall health would have been compromised.

I also elected to have a complete physical, which I had not had in over 10 years. I was surprised to learn of some issues that I had that I have been able to manage with the support of the wonderful doctors at Wockhardt Hospital. This alone was worth the trip!

The care in hospital was FAR superior to any I have ever experienced in the U.S., anywhere! The food and shopping were AMAZING...I came back with a great smile and deeper friendships; I am looking so forward to returning to the beautiful city of Bangalore with friends in August for my permanent teeth!"

To read more testimonials about patients' fabulous experiences, click here.