Medical Tourism on the Rise

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As the global population ages and certain segments grow more affluent, the demand for quality healthcare resources is on the rise. In developed countries, especially the United States, rising healthcare costs, combined with the increasing availability and affordability of international medical facilities that meet US accreditation, are driving the growth of medical tourism, a term used to describe people who travel abroad to receive medical treatment or undergo a medical procedure.

Employers, particularly those that are self funded and cover thousands of lives, have sought out overseas medical care and medical tourism as a way to offset the rising costs of healthcare, particularly since the Affordable Care Act has changed employer's financial responsibilities.

In 2008, the management consultancy McKinsey & Company released a report putting the number of Americans traveling abroad for medical treatment at more than 85,000 annually. In 2014, the medical tourism information group Patients Beyond Borders estimated the number of Americans seeking medical care internationally had grown to 1,200,000 that year. Although reliable statistics can be hard to come by for international medical tourism, Patients Beyond Borders estimate that the medical tourism market will continue to grow at a rate of 15-25% per year.

Common treatments include hip and knee replacements, dental implants or surgery, bypass surgery, heart valve replacements, orthopedics, reproductive, weight loss, and a number of cosmetic surgery treatments. Patients from the US have commonly travelled to Mexico or Costa Rica for treatment, while UK NHS (National Health Service) patients have the right to receive treatment in any country within the European Economic Area (EEA). Medical tourism has been growing in other markets, with a number of developing countries catering to developed countries’ demand for medical treatments. Today, Thailand, Singapore, Cuba, India, Malaysia, Brazil, and Argentina are common destinations for medical tourism. Many hospitals and clinics will be able to invoice in dollars or euros, but whatever the currency, sending money to these locations to pay for treatments can be very easy and cost-effective when working with a specialist currency broker to facilitate overseas money transfers.

Important rules and regulations

For those seeking medical treatment outside their home country, maneuvering through a country’s regulations, and knowing what to look for in terms of safe, reliable healthcare, are crucial aspects of ensuring a successful experience. Today, many people rely on medical concierge services; private companies that help patients find foreign healthcare facilities that meets their needs. There are a number of options to help US- and UK-based patients seeking overseas care. Medical concierge companies in the US, such as Companion Global Healthcare, a division of Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina, provide medical tourism services to both individuals and businesses. The American Medical Association (AMA) and the international division of the Joint Commission International (JCI) have published guidelines discussing the risks associated with overseas medical travel. The AMA’s guidelines can be found on their website. The JCI, a US-based not-for-profit organization that certifies healthcare facilities in the US, has established accreditation and certification processes for overseas organizations, as well. It is advisable to check with the JCI to ensure the selected institution meets their standards for accreditation.

Medical concierge services also help patients work with their local insurance provider and with overseas treatment facilities to establish a payment plan for any out of pocket expenses, as well as follow-up treatments. Some large employers and insurers based in the US also maintain alliances with overseas hospitals, and several major medical schools have joint healthcare initiatives with overseas facilities, including the Johns Hopkins Singapore International Medical Center, the Duke-National University of Singapore, and the Harvard Medical School Dubai Center.

Most medical concierge services suggest consulting a travel health provider at least 4-6 weeks in advance. It is also advised that patients factor in the additional risks associated with traveling overseas for a procedure. Patients should not travel for at least 10 days following most procedures, and should take into account the additional risk of exposure to increased air pressure while traveling by air. The Aerospace Medical Association has a set of guidelines for air travel following a medical procedure.

Saving money on overseas medical treatment

The number one reason most patients travel abroad for medical treatment is the opportunity to save money on healthcare costs. Whether already insured, underinsured, or seeking a treatment that isn’t covered by a health insurance plan, patients can save anywhere from 15-85% if they elect to have their procedure done overseas.

Due to lower labor costs, less third party involvement from insurance companies and governments, lower malpractice litigation costs, and package pricing, most US employers and patients will pay quite a bit less if they choose treatment overseas. Today, it is also easier than ever to make an international money transfer to almost any country in order to pay for medical treatment.

Working with a medical concierge service can also help to lower costs and simplify the process, by coordinating your treatment through medical travel intermediaries, ensuring the chosen facility is accredited, and working with hospital staff to ensure your treatment goes as planned. Be sure of course to receive official medical advice before seeking any overseas medical treatment.

Genia Jones
Content Specialist
Genia is a writer for FXcompared. She has over 15 years of experience working in the financial industry as a writer, analyst, marketer, and content strategist. She enjoys writing about emerging trends… Read more
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