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Medical Tourism (Travel For Medical Care)

Step 2. Research The Alternatives

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To learn about the available alternatives:

  • In order to have a base line for comparison, it is advisable to first learn the cost of doing what you need locally. In addition to calling experienced, qualified medical providers, consider checking such sites as offsite link.
  • Contact several travel agencies to get your initial questions answered including costs of travel to and from, cost of staying in the location, and the cost of the procedure or treatment. This will help you start to hone in whether it is worthwhile to travel for the procedure you need and, if so, to which part of the world. Look for agencies that have actually vetted health care providers and facilities abroad. A list of internet companies that connect patients to medical care outside the United States is below.
  • Search the internet using the name of the treatment/procedure in which you are interested and the names of various countries you would consider to find out what you can learn independently.

Look for facilities that are tied to a "brand-name" U.S. hospital. Leading U.S. health systems such as the Cleveland AClinic Johns Hopkins and the University of Pennsylvania have relationships with foreigh hospitals that have some of the same safety standards as the hospitals in the U.S. 

If there is no such facility, check to see whether the facility is accredited by a recognized accrediting organization. For example:

  • International organizations
    • The Joint Commission International (JCI offsite link) - the international affiliate of the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations. JCI accredits hospitals abroad. Accreditation is an ongoing process. After initial accreditation, facilities have standards to meet on an ongoing basis. To find an accredited hospital, go to the JCI website and click on "For Patients." Tel.: 630.792.5000. 
    • The British Standards Institute at offsite link
  • Local organizations: Check to see if there is an accrediting medical association in the destination country with respect to doctors and other health care providers just like there are in the United States.

Use the standards for choosing a health care provider and facility you would use if choosing such a provider or facility in the U.S. For example to help decide about a:

  • Health Care Provider
    • Primary care doctor, click here.
    • Specialist, click here
    • Oncologist, click here
    • Surgeon, click here
    • You can check to assess the doctor's fluency in English by requesting a conversation through a free video service such as Skype or over the telephone.
    • If you are considering a cosmetic procedure, look for a surgeon who is certified by the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery
    • If you are considering dental work, see the Organization for Safety, Asepsis and Prevention.  Go to offsite link. Click on "knowledge center" then "travel"
  • Facility
    • Hospital, click here
    • Cancer facility, click here.

Keep in mind that it is also advisable to check:

  • The other parts of the medical team, such as the anesthesiologist.
  • Other doctors who may be called in if there are complications.
  • The nursing staff.
  • Your rights. For example, that you have the right to receive full information about your condition and treatment, that you can refuse any and all treatment at any time, that you will be transferred to another facility if you request it. (For a list of rights, see: Your Rights In A Hospital.
  • The facility's position with respect to your end-of-life wishes if the unexpected happens. (To learn more, see Living Wills and Advance Directives.)
  • For complaints or negative news reports that represent red flags.
  • Whatever else is important to you -- such as special dietary needs.

Once you have honed in on one or a few health care providers and/or facilities,  consider asking:

  • How long can you anticipate being in the medical facility?
  • Is there an English speaking patient representative?
  • Is there an international patient coordinator on staff? (A coordinator will help make the necessary medical arrangements, as well as post-procedural recuperation and local travel arrangements.)
  • What is the food like?
  • How accessible is the facility to your friends?
  • What happens after you are discharged? Do you have to go to another facility for less extensive medical care? For example, will you have to move to a physical therapy facility? If so, what kind and for how long? (Do the same research about the secondary facility you do about the primary facility).
  • Does the facility make arrangements for a place in which you can recover?
  • What it will be like being in the country after the procedure -- for instance, costs of getting around. Is it safe to get around on your own?

Find out about follow-up care.

  • What follow-up care is usual?
  • Is standard follow-up care included in the price? (If not, how much is it?)
  • What follow-up care could be needed?
  • How is it provided?
  • Does the health care provider or the facility make a commitment to do follow-up care?
  • How long is it prudent for you to stay there in case of need?
  • What if you don't need follow-up care until you're back home?

Ask about costs. Consider:

  • The cost of the treatment/procedure.
  • The hospital stay or stay in another health care facility.
  • Travel costs (including the costs of getting from the airport to the facility, as well as passport and travel visa fees)
  • Cost of living at the destination before flying home. 
  • Cost of communicating with loved ones at home. Calls from abroad can be a lot more expensive than calls from the U.S.
  • How much will you have to pay up-front?
  • Will you have to pay for the procedure before you leave the facility?
  • Is there any financing available?

What happens if there is a problem?

  • Does the contract with the facility limit damages? If so, how and to what limit?
  • Do the local laws permit malpractice damages?
  •  Does the doctor or other health care provider and/or the facility have malpractice insurance? If so, what is covered? What are the exceptions to coverage? What is the limit? 
  • Has the provider made arrangements to be allowed to be sued in U.S. courts?
  • If the procedure is to occur in a clinic, how far is the clinic from an accredited hospital in case of emergency?

After you have picked a provider and facility, consider contacting the American Embassy or consulate in the local area. You may be able to get a person there to tell you unofficially what he or she knows personally about the provider and/or facility.

Finally, ask your doctor what you need to do to safely travel to and from the destination. For example, will you need shots? Can you tolerate the shots?

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