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Medical Tourism Gets a Face-lift
Placed by : Looking for Dental 17-07-2007
Monday - July 16, 2007 - 05:00 AM CT
When David Woodman announced he was going to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, for major dental work, his son Josef thought his dad had lost his mind. He had visions of untrained dentists burrowing into his father’s mouth, clutching fistfuls of rusty needles.
So the younger Woodman tagged along, to make sure his father would not fall victim to foreign quackery.
“Instead of what I feared, he got a board-trained dentist in a great clinic, with state-of-the-art instruments and panoramic X-rays,” said Woodman, who was so impressed he ended up researching and writing the new book Patients Beyond Borders on the phenomenon of medical tourism. “And he saved $11,000 on a mouthful of teeth. I came away with a different perspective.”
Woodman’s father is not alone in looking abroad for a medical overhaul. If the American healthcare system is not completely broken, it is certainly dysfunctional: 47 million people have no health coverage, and 130 million have no dental insurance. As baby boomers age into more medical problems with spotty coverage, they are looking at all available options.
Enter countries such as India, Thailand, Mexico, Costa Rica, Malaysia and Singapore that cater to the maladies of well-heeled foreigners. About 150,000 Americans a year leave the U.S. to have medical work done, and the industry is growing by about 15 to 20 percent annually. The quality of care in top hospitals is said to beat most American hospitals, while providing savings of 30 to 80 percent.
Not that medical tourism is a worry-free venture. With the training of foreign doctors and the conditions of far-flung facilities, the legal limbo should something go awry and the wisdom of getting on long-haul flights after major surgery, there are troubling questions to consider. However, when patients are facing something major, more Americans are seemingly proving able to get beyond their doubts.
A cottage industry is growing up around medical tourism, led by companies such as MedRetreat and Planet Hospital. Not just in the U.S., but in countries with creaky national health systems such as the United Kingdom, where lengthy waiting lists for non-emergency surgery have spurred many to look abroad.
“Now you can buy a travel package where they’ll literally handle everything for you,” said David Hancock, author of the newly published guide The Complete Medical Tourist. “They pick you up at your front door, take you to the airport, fly you in and accompany you to all clinical visits and operations. Then you’re off to a five-star hotel to recuperate for two weeks, before flying you back and getting a private car back home. And it all comes in at half of what it would be at a private hospital in the U.K.”