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Health Care Abroad: Should You Use a Medical Tourism Facilitators Posted: March 17th, 2010

By Megg Mueller

Megg Mueller is a journalist with almost two decades of experience. She has worked as a reporter and editor for the Reno Gazette-Journal, as editor of health care and education manuals and was an assistant travel editor for USATODAY.com.

With rising health care costs and fewer options for cheap private health insurance, more and more Americans are forgoing the medical procedures they need. According to a 2009 poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, six in 10 said they or a family member had put off medical treatment due to the cost.

As a way around cost obstacles, some Americans are choosing medical tourism, or traveling outside the United States for surgery. The reason? A surgery in a hospital overseas can often cost 25 percent to 80 percent less than the same procedure performed in an American hospital. For instance, without medical coverage, the cost of heart bypass surgery in the U.S. can cost $145,000, but in Thailand the same operation is under $25,000. The cost of a U.S. hip replacement surgery is $100,047, but the price in Ireland is under $22,000.

Use a Medical Tourism Facilitator

When it comes to planning an overseas trip for medical care, using a medical tourism facilitator is often a wise choice. These companies work with clients to plan all aspects of their treatment, including flights, accommodations, hospitals, doctors, and aftercare, which has been called the weakest link in the medical tourism process. Facilitators generally work with hospitals that have been accredited by the Joint Commission International, the international branch of the same organization that accredits hospitals in the United States.

The Medical Tourism Association (MTA), an international non-profit association that encompasses international hospitals, health care providers, medical tourism facilitators, and insurance companies, launched a pilot program in 2009 to offer certification to medical tourism facilitators. According to Jessica Johnson, Operations Director of MTA, there are now three medical tourism companies certified to meet MTA standards, and three more undergoing the application process for certification.

"It's an overall look at what an insurance company or a patient is going to look at," Johnson explains. "We look at a variety of points. It takes 90 to 120 days to get certified. It's a very extensive process."

Choosing the Best Medical Tourism Facilitator

When choosing a facilitator, Johnson suggests assessing potential providers by using criteria similar to that of the MTA. A facilitator should:

  • Have transparency in the quality of care offered and who they are working with
  • Have traveled to the facility, and knows the doctors who work there.
  • Offer transparency in the pricing of the packages on its Web site. While each patient requires unique care and there are individual cost fluctuations, the general base price should be the same for every person.
  • Get back to potential clients within 24 hours, even just for a quote or question.
  • Work with accredited hospitals.
  • Know where its affiliated doctors have been trained.
  • Have liability insurance.

Once chosen, arrange for visas, transmission of medical records, and appointments with a foreign doctor; meet you at the airport, assign you a foreign companion, and provide local transportation.

Johnson says the MTA is keen to note if facilitators have concierge services for their clients. Facilitators must also have personal relationships with the hospitals and physicians they work with.

If There are Problems

While problems associated with medical tourism are rare, what do you do if there is an issue with your medical tourism facilitator? As a relatively new industry, there are no regulating agencies, but Johnson says MTA's President, Renee-Marie Stephano, is working with MTA's advisory council to create an organization for patient advocacy. Until then, if the offending party is a member of MTA, you can call MTA for guidance.

Using a medical tourism facilitator is a personal choice. These services can offer a helping hand when it comes to planning your surgery abroad. Take your time and research all aspects of your surgery, accommodations and aftercare.

Megg Mueller