Monday, January 9, 2012

Current Trends in Medical Tourism

The medical tourism is still largely unknown to a majority of people. Though many know the existence, they don't seem to put them together a sequence. The medical tourism is centuries old and historically carried out for various reasons and diseases appropriate for that time period. Today the age of information hasn't changed much of it, but only fostered its development into an organized practice. The current economic downturn has seen many people to lose their jobs, yet ineligible for unemployment or medical benefits.  Furthermore, the third party payer system in health care (also known as insurance) has become more restrictive. Many complain that the deductibles have doubled in the last few years.
 Many procedures need pre certification. There are some clauses specifically written to exclude the pre existing conditions.  Furthermore many procedures are not covered because they are simply not medically necessary. The patients don't really have money to spend on their vacation activities after these expenses. The situation is painfully similar for self employed individuals. This illustrates a simple fact that under insured is not significantly better than UN insured patients.

These factors have led to the explosive growth of international medical tourism in recent years. The number of companies is exploding and is providing every procedure under the sun.  It is worrisome that some of these companies are run by people with no pre existing medical related experience. Furthermore, some companies seem to tie up with every country and doctor in the world without any regard to quality. They just seem to play the role of price brokers.  The disturbing fact is that the facilities are being listed as medical tourism providers. Their "Hospitals" have 3-10 inpatient beds. These facilities should not even be considered for the international patients. But the price is being used as a strong lure.

The patients are more active in the internet and are actively exploring various options. They ask questions and are keen on non invasive procedures. They also shop around a lot and would try to get the best price possible. However with the relentless pressure from cheap clinics and certain medical tourism providers, they fail to understand that there is more to a surgical procedure than just the price. Furthermore most of the medical tourism providers don't care enough or take time to educate the patients. This has resulted in numerous sub optimal post surgical outcomes. Some of the blotched surgeries have even resulted in death.

Some of the American domestic cosmetic surgeons are trying to reverse the medical tourism trend by following the factory model for the cosmetic surgeries like we discussed above. The recent USA Today story regarding cosmetic surgeries from Florida illustrates these facts. One has to understand that the reason for the medical tourism is the affordability. The higher wages and malpractice premiums results in the price discrepancy. Simply rushing the surgeries to compete with the medical tourism would not be in the patient's best interest and might result in increased malpractice premiums.

Some insurance companies have started the medical insurance plans, although these are in the phase of pilot projects. Furthermore, many employers are opening up to the idea of medical tourism as a means to curb healthcare costs. These are welcoming changes in the field of medical tourism and should contribute significantly to elevate the standards among medical tourism providers.

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