As health care costs continue to rise in the United States and wait times continue to rise in Canada, many patients are turning to medical tourism. Patients choose medical tourism for a number of reasons. Most commonly, it’s because a procedure is too expensive out of pocket, treatment is not available or accessible, or health insurance does not cover any or enough of the procedure. These days, global standards of care are rapidly improving, so traveling internationally is a smart way to both save money and receive quality care.
Fortunately, there are a growing number of medical travel resources available and a handful of medical facilitation companies to work with so patients don’t have to start from scratch. Here’s our top 10 recommendations for how to select the right medical tourism organization to work with and how to best prepare for your medical travel journey.
1) Hire An Experienced Medical Facilitation Team
If you have no idea where to start, this is the best first step you can take. You’ll want to work with a company that has a history of helping thousands of patients and offers a selection of money-saving resources. The best companies have several ground contacts in each of their medical travel destinations, and their facilitators are able to intelligently answer all your questions, so you feel like you have a friend in your corner. Seek out companies that have a strong rapport with their doctors and hospital staff to get the answers you’ll need before, during, and after surgery. When you work with an experienced company, there’s essentially no chance of bait-and-switch pricing or medical neglect with knowledgeable and experienced patient care facilitators on your side.
2) Verify Your Doctor’s Credentials
Be sure to verify that your doctor is board-certified and possesses the necessary licensing for each practicing specialty. A reputable facilitator should be able to present this to you easily. Many of the top doctors who treat international patients were trained and educated in the US or EU. The best doctors will have admission privileges to hospitals that are Tier 1 accredited by the Joint Commission International, which is the gold standard and has rigorous vetting of facility excellence.
3) Avoid Surgical Facilities Without A Level One Trauma Center
It’s not just critical to ensure that you have your surgery done in a hospital that is JCI accredited, but one that also has a well-equipped and well-staffed emergency room and intensive care unit. To save money, even the best of doctors will often choose to operate at an outpatient center. You’re already traveling abroad and will certainly be saving a lot of money, but the marginal savings to have your procedure done at an ill-equipped clinic are never worth the increased risk.
4) Get To Know Your Surgical Team
Don’t be bashful. Ask your primary surgeon for a video or phone call (the best facilitation companies will provide you with at least one video or phone-based doctor consultation). Learn his or her bedside manner, attitude, and get a general feeling for how you’ll be treated. The head surgeon is just one piece of the puzzle, though. Request the qualifications of the assisting surgeons, nurses, and anesthesiologist, as well. After the surgery is completed, the attending nurse will be monitoring your health and caring for you. Does she/he speak your language and provide the care you deserve? If not, you’re not going to be a comfortable as you should be.
5) Overshare Your Medical History
This might sound weird living in a world where privacy and data concerns are in the news all the time. However, when working with medical professionals who will be dispensing care on your behalf and performing surgery on you, it’s vital. Patients will often refrain from sharing certain details for fear that they might not be approved for a procedure or be forced to pay additional fees. While these both may be true in some situations, the benefits clearly outweigh the risks due to the safety and peace of mind you’ll receive as the patient.
6) Confirm All Costs Up Front Before Booking
It’s imperative that you be sure to confirm all costs and possible unforeseen expenses before officially agreeing to schedule your surgery. Are post-op medications included? Is complication insurance included? Will you be required to pay for your own airport shuttle? Do you include physical therapy? Ask your facilitator to provide you with a detailed list of everything that is and is not included. The more reputable companies will have transparent pricing and details available for you in advance of any booking, as opposed to first getting your final costs upon arrival to your medical travel destination.
7) Take Copies Of All Your Prescriptions
It may sound a bit weird, but we’ve seen it all. Medications can get lost, they can melt, or they can get wet. In any of these cases, you will need to replace them. Even if you don’t lose or damage your medications, you may need to present the prescription to airport security or border control officers as a safety precaution. If you have any implanted metal prosthetics, a pacemaker, etc., you’ll likely need to provide evidence as well.
8) Purchase A Strong Complication Insurance Policy
This is BIG. Your domestic or travel insurance policies will not cover you in the event of a complication. Of course, complications are rare, but they become more of a concern if you don’t go with a reputable doctor in a highly accredited hospital or surgical facility. Ask your medical facilitator which complication insurance policy is best for your needs.
9) Get A Clean Bill Of Health Prior To Traveling
We’re not suggesting that you can only travel if you’re in perfect health. With that said, you don’t want to take time off of work, pay for flights, hotel and a surgery, only to arrive to your destination and not be able to have your surgery done because of a minor health issue. Should you learn that you have an infection, or because you lied about your health history or weight for example, it could require the doctor to postpone your procedure. In the most ideal scenario, getting a clean bill of health involves a full pre-operative evaluation, including a full blood panel, an EKG, a chest x-ray, and a urinalysis. It might involve other testing as well depending. Be sure to consult with your local family practitioner in any direction.
10) Take Hard Copies Of Your Entire Medical File
It’s your right to request your medical records from your primary care physician or specialist. Legally, a patient is entitled to a copy of his or her medical record and a physician may not refuse to provide the record directly to the patient in favor of forwarding to another provider. This includes all diagnostics and medical records. If you sent digital copies of your files to your doctor, it’s possible they could be corrupted or lost, so it can’t hurt to have a backup with you.
Got more questions about traveling abroad for medical treatment? Don’t hesitate to reach out to our best-in-class patient care facilitators today!