By Kathleen Doheny, HealthDay Reporter
FRIDAY, July 6 (HealthDay News) — Soaring U.S. medical costs are causing many Americans to take to the skies on “medical tourism” junkets, looking for high-quality yet low-priced health care at foreign clinics.
In many cases, patients get exactly what they are looking for, but experts also warn that the booming industry does have some risks.
“My own advice would be to look carefully at the accreditation of the hospital and consider the nature of the procedure. Are you sure it is the procedure you need? And is it done well at the place you are going?” said Dr. Ann Marie Kimball, a professor of epidemiology and health services at the University of Washington School of Public Health, in Seattle.
The surge in medical tourism over the past decade is being driven by rising U.S. health-care costs and growing numbers of uninsured or under-insured Americans, said Josef Woodman, the author of a guidebook on the topic called Patients Beyond Borders.
Almost 45 million Americans, or slightly more than 15 percent of the population, are currently uninsured, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics from 2005, the latest available.
Woodman estimated that more than 150,000 Americans traveled abroad for health care in 2006. The number is projected to double in 2007, he said.
…Even when patients select and book medical care abroad through a health travel agent, they must remain critical, informed health-care consumers, Woodman said.
The main thing a patient needs to do, he said, is check out the accreditation of the hospital and the credentials of the surgeon.
Spread of disease is another potential concern, said Kimball, who is also director of the APEC Asia Pacific Emerging Infectious Disease Network and author of Risky Trade: Infectious Disease in the Era of Global Trade.
“Medical tourism is obviously a route for pathogen spread,” Kimball said, noting that different hospitals in different regions may have different types of flora. “The extent to which it’s a problem versus a theoretical concern is as yet not known,” she said. “I can’t issue a blank ‘go’ or ‘don’t go,'” she added.
Kimball’s advice: Look carefully at the accreditation of the hospital concerned and do your homework before you board the plane. “Check out the number of surgeries done, the success rates,” Woodman added. It’s also key to ask the surgeon you talk to if he or she will perform the operation, not an assistant.
Kimball said she urges potential medical tourists to talk it over with their own physician. As the concept and the practice of medical tourism has evolved, she said, a physician is not likely to automatically rule out the idea.
There’s more on medical tourism at the American Society of Plastic Surgeons…
SOURCES: Josef Woodman, author, Patients Beyond Borders, (Healthy Travel Media, 2007); Ann Marie Kimball, M.D., professor, epidemiology and health services, University of Washington School of Public Health and Community Medicine; director, APEC Asia Pacific Emerging Infections Network, Seattle, and author, Risky Trade (Ashgate Publishing, 2006); American Society of Plastic Surgeons, briefing paper
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