This article covers some of the key things to keep in mind when selecting a clinic or a hospital at an international destination or if required en route. It also educates you on what a medical tourism company can and cannot do to assist someone on a lookout for affordable medical treatment abroad.
Why you may need medical care abroad?
- If there is an emergency when overseas;
- If you need any follow-up care for an existing condition;
- If you need regular checkups like annual checkups or periodic dental checkups and cleanings (especially in case of long stay overseas);
- Or it could be that the primary purpose of your trip to a foreign country is for a medical treatment or surgery (Medical Tourism). In either of the cases, itĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s important to have good knowledge of and a plan for handling any international medical needs.
Before your trip, itĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s a good idea to have medical travel insurance. Check if your existing health insurance plan covers your overseas trip and stay. Otherwise, buying a good travel and health insurance plan is recommended. Know the insurance terms and conditions in detail. Good international travel insurance will have an added benefit of covering travel interruptions and delays, lost baggage and travel documents. There are cheap international travel insurance plans that cover the important things and at the same time are not expensive.
From your insurance company, get a list of overseas hospitals that are covered in the trip that you are planning to make. A good insurance should provide wide options for you to choose from.
For some of you who are from a country that has socialist medicine (like Canada or UK) or from a country where employer-provided health insurance is popular (like USA), you may not be used to paying directly in advance to the doctor or the hospital.
But, in many international countries you have to pay before you are treated. Even if you have insurance coverage and that hospital is in your insurance network coverage, you may be required to pay in advance the full estimate charge. The insurance will reimburse you afterwards. Find out from the hospital and the health insurance provider about the procedure in your specific case. Carrying a recognized credit card in such cases can be handy. Also, confirm with the hospital in advance if they accept the credit card or some other means of payment is acceptable.
Below are ten important points to consider when deciding on a Medical Tourism Hospital:
1. The first thing to keep in mind about selecting an overseas hospital is the recognized international accreditations and certifications the hospital has. An excellent choice would be a JCI (Joint Commission International)-accredited hospital. JCI is a not-for-profit organization that accredits hospitals worldwide based on their quality and safety of patient care. A hospital has to go through rigorous quality compliance and audits to get the accreditation. Other certifications like ISO 9000 are also a good indicator of the high quality of the care at the overseas hospital. Affiliation of the hospital to other prestigious medical institutes (like Harvard Medical, John Hopkins) is another indicator that the hospital could be a good choice.
2. Make sure the doctors in the hospital are board certified, either in their own country or some country reputed in medical care. If you plan to include medical care (treatment or checkup) as part of your trip, you can always request in advance the resume of the doctors that will treat you.
3. Select a fully integrated hospital over a clinic where possible. A clinic usually has a limited service or caters to a particular medical specialty. An integrated hospital is one that has everything (all major specialties) and medical facilities like ICU, blood bank, ER, MRI, X-Ray, pathology, laboratory, pharmacy, doctorsĂ˘â‚¬â„˘ offices and more at the same place. There are many advantages to this. To name a few:
- Integrated hospitals usually have higher quality and physicians are experienced;
- You can avoid trips to multiple medical facilities in a foreign land;
- In case of an emergency you have everything available at one place thus saving you critical time;
- You deal with one entity and not many;
- Big hospitals are very concerned about their reputation with foreigners. Hence, you will receive special treatment;
- If the hospital has an International patients’ department, a concierge service, cafeteria and accommodation for a patient and accompanying guest, it is even better.
4. Fourth, does the hospital staff understand your language? ItĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s important that either the staff know your language or that they at least have an international patient department that addresses this communication issue. Clear and quick communication of your requirement to the physician and similarly the physicianĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s message to you is important. Additionally, the physician should be able to understand the written language to review your medical records from the home country. If you are going on a planned medical trip overseas, talking to the physician in advance will help address these concerns.
5. What is the reputation of the hospital among the people there? A good hospital will have a good name locally. If possible, ask your international contacts for hospital references.
In case of a pre-existing condition that needs specialist checkup, tests or monitoring, itĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s important for you to make sure in advance that your international specialist is well qualified and is aware of your case. It is quite customary for international doctors to talk to each other about a patient over phone. You could even arrange a teleconference between the three of you. Your local doctor could help you choose the right international follow-up care for you. The international physician should also be willing to work with your local physician in terms of communication and medical records transfer. This is for your care once you are back home. Hospitals that have dealt with international patients in the past should be able to address this area easily. Also, physicians working at such facilities are more acquainted with international patient care.
6. There are some hospital quality indicators that you can request a hospital for. These can be compared to the benchmarks in your country or any country where medical care quality is high. Some of common ones are: mortality rate, Staph (Staphylococcus) infection rate, and nurse to patient ratio. In some countries the trend is for hospitals to publish this data on the web, but in some countries you have to ask the hospital for the numbers, and in some it is not available at all. But quality indicators are usually not available for new hospitals. This is due to the fact that not enough data (patients treated) has been accumulated to give a statistically accurate number.
Many people from the West are surprised at the low cost of treatment in overseas hospitals. Places like India, Mexico, Costa Rica and Thailand can save you about 60-90% of the costs that you would incur in the USA. These low prices are sometimes in spite of the fact that many overseas physicians are more experienced and trained than their counterparts in the West. The low cost is due to a number of factors, namely: less bureaucratic medical administration, lower salary expenditures, less litigious laws, and more efficient management.
7. When looking for hospital or a clinic overseas one should be careful not to look for the lowest price in that area or country. Usually, the lowest price in a place equates to low quality. The clinic or hospital could be offering the lowest prices either because they do not have much business or because the quality of the infrastructure or staff is compromised.
8. Another factor to consider is the distance between the healthcare center and the place where you will be staying at the international location. Many popular tourist destinations donĂ˘â‚¬â„˘t have good transport infrastructure. The distance may not be much, but due to lack of infrastructure it might take a long time and be a tiring trip. Keep this in mind when deciding on a hospital.
9. What is the attitude of local people towards foreign tourists, especially those related to Medical Tourism? Making a medical trip to a city or country that may not have a welcoming attitude towards foreigners should be avoided as there is a good choice of medical tourist-friendly locations.
10. Current patient experience. These can be in the form of patient satisfaction surveys or even patient testimonials. This information can be requested from the hospital or a medical tourism company might have it available.
Examples of hospitals that meet the above discussed criteria are Hospital Clinica Biblica in Costa Rica, Hospital Angeles in Mexico and Hospital Wockhardt in India.
If you are planning the trip for a medical necessity (surgery or a specific medical treatment), working with a Medical Tourism Company to select the right hospital for your needs is a good idea. The cost to the patient is the same, if they use the services of a Medical Tourism Company or go directly to the hospital, but using the service of a medical tourism company has some notable benefits.
A competent medical tourism company can be an excellent source of information for hospitals and the physicians overseas. They have readily available information that can help compare between different hospitals, physicians and countries, without having to do information gathering on your own. In addition to saving time, the medical tourism company can help in medical loan financing, discounted travel arrangements and other concierge services to make your trip more convenient and satisfying.
A point to note is that a medical tourism company is not a medical advisory service. It provides information and facilitates logistics and communication. Medical Tourism FAQ should help clarify this common confusion. Medical advice or recommendation can be only given by your physician.
About the Author: Deepak Datta is an entrepreneur & President of Medical Tourism Corporation, a Plano TX based medical tourism company. Medical Tourism Corporation web address is http://www.medicaltourismco.com/. The mission of the company is to have satisfied and happy medical tourists.