Medical Tourism and The Value Of Technology In Medicine

By Brooke Faulkner

The phrase “medical tourism” has been coined to describe the millions of Americans who are traveling across the globe to have surgery or other medical procedures performed. According to Visa and Oxford Economics, this trend is growing at a rate of 25 percent per year.

Healthcare in the U.S. has become increasingly expensive — to the point that some necessary treatments are entirely out of reach for the average American. Combine that with rising health insurance premiums and high deductibles, and it’s no wonder 1.4 million people traveled abroad last year to get the medical care they needed.

Additionally, many countries offer more advanced technological solutions and experimental treatments that are not yet available within the U.S. Better, more advanced care that is less expensive sounds like an attractive reason why so many Americans are taking advantage of overseas healthcare.

Healthcare implications

The reason these countries can offer above-standard care for less money is that the doctors are paid less and hospitals charge less than in America. Plus, the insurance costs are a fraction of U.S. expenses. The result is that some U.S. health insurance companies now support overseas treatment and even pay for the travel along with the cost of the procedures.

Talk of improvements to the U.S. healthcare system becomes popular during an election year, but unfortunately, things don’t seem to improve; they continue to get more expensive for the average American.

The Affordable Care Act of 2010 was in part meant to discourage traveling outside the country for healthcare by making it easier for all Americans to be able to afford their own treatment. Unfortunately forcing everyone to have health insurance only increased health insurance premiums, hospitals and physician fees and complicated the issue making affordable healthcare further out of reach.

U.S. Medical Technology: How Does It Measure Up?

In the U.S., healthcare professionals have a number of factors to consider when implementing technology. They must consider cost, leadership buy-in and other keys to successful implementation. Unfortunately, because of the excessive investment cost for medical technology implementation here in the U.S., America is sorely lagging behind countries like Canada, China, India and England. These countries have access to bigger budgets, fewer government bottlenecks, and a more streamlined approval process to get medicine and devices out into the market faster.

The United Kingdom, China and Canada are all investing serious money in biotechnology and experimenting with pharmaceutical cures that are years beyond the technology produced by U.S. companies. Lawmakers in those countries are invested in supporting and funding new technologies to lead the pack in innovation and medical history.

The difference is that in many of these locales, the government solidly backs the research and development of medical technology solutions rather than private companies. In the U.S. most of the advancements come from the private sector and are not government sanctioned or funded.

Closing the gap

Americans are drowning in medical debt, and until our country addresses this cost issue satisfactorily, the trend of traveling for your surgery or dental work will continue. A coronary bypass that costs around $98,000 in America would cost only $9,800 in India. That is a cost savings that is impossible to ignore.

Some of the most popular destinations for procedures are Thailand, Malaysia, South Korea and Turkey. Americans find it much more affordable to travel for reproductive issues, joint replacement surgeries and eye surgery.

The option of traveling to save thousands (sometimes even hundreds of thousands) of dollars appeals to many Americans who are fed up with the U.S. healthcare system. Now that the level of care is equal to or better than American standards, not much stands in the way of continued growth of medical tourism.

Tips for medical tourists

The most important factor to consider when traveling outside the U.S. is whether or not insurance covers your procedure and travel. You also might want to consider medical complication insurance before leaving. Do your homework and know exactly what you are getting into before going under the knife. Check online reviews and consult your insurance carrier.

Consider the language barriers and recovery time. You will want to make sure you take the time to get fully well before traveling back. You can’t fly right away, so you will need to make sure your hotel accommodates any special equipment or medical needs you have while recovering. You may need to take weeks off from work before you come home.

Contact your general practitioner before leaving and bring home all your medical records so your regular physical can follow-up on your care. Traveling abroad may be the answer to saving money and getting the care you need. However, check out all your options — you may find that going to another area of the U.S. can significantly cut down on your costs and still get you what you need.

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