Medical Tourism is Rising Among Americans

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Americans are heading to the Far East in increasing numbers, not to see the sights but to have necessary surgery for cheaper than they can get it done in their home country. Medical tourism to such countries as Thailand, Singapore, and India is a by-product of the high costs of surgery in the U.S.

 The trend is reported in a late October issue of The New England Journal of Medicine. People are seeking out a host of procedures from lifesaving operations (e.g. coronary bypass, heart valve replacement) to quality-of-life surgeries (e.g. hip or knee replacement). Experts believe people are desperate — and that combined with an inability to afford their own country’s health care system is what is driving them to go overseas.

 At a group of hospitals in Mumbai, India, there has been a 45% rise in American patients over the past couple of years. Bypass surgery costs about $7,000, joint replacement $6,500, and hip resurfacing the same — all costs that pale in comparison to the totals that appear on U.S. hospital bills. In part because of this trend, Indian businesspeople are poised to open 10 new hospitals over the next three years.

 The U.S. government would likely take the position that one’s safety would be at risk by traveling overseas, which is the same position it takes against those who seek out prescription drugs from Canada. However, in reality, surgeries overseas are safer than you might presume.

 Those who go, obviously don’t do so on a whim, but instead research the surgery and talk with many doctors and hospital personnel, many of whom have been trained in the U.S. and since left for China, Singapore, or Saudi Arabia.

 Also, for many medical institutions abroad, there is an accreditation system in place. They are closing in on 100 hospitals in many Far East countries that are accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations.

 This essentially means that they are safe and there is no evidence that surgeries performed at these facilities are more dangerous or of lesser quality than a hospital in the U.S. Many say they could, in fact, be better than U.S. facilities.

 All of this — the outsourcing of clinical care — is a symptom of America’s rather expensive health care system. Although this would still be a rare occurrence for most people in the U.S., if surgery costs keep rising and the quality stays the same, then the trend of heading overseas will keep going and likely grow larger.

 Insurance companies certainly know about this, and in some cases are bringing the trend to the attention of their clients. That could result in far lower premiums than if a person was to have surgery in the U.S.

 That’s right: An incentive to go elsewhere for invasive surgery. How many incentives will it take for this to become a serious reality across the nation?

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