Medical tourism is booming

Written by admin on September 26, 2008 – 2:46 pm -

Don’t be shocked if some more affluent friends return from faraway trips looking extremely well rested. Look more carefully. There may be telltale scars. Medical tourism is booming.

Medical tourism is on the rise. Some noted destinations are India, Brazil, Argentina, Panama, and Malaysia. According to statistics by McKinsey & Company and the Confederation of India, it is forecast there will be an explosion of people heading overseas to save money to have certain procedures done.

In 2004, an estimated $40 billion was spent in the medical tourism industry. It’s forecast that by 2012, revenues will top $100 billion. Brazil is known as an international Mecca for cosmetic and plastic surgeries. Ivo Pitanguy, the world-renowned plastic surgeon who opened a clinic outside of Rio de Janeiro more than 40 years ago, catapulted the country into the limelight. He trained doctors from all over the world and if you were a disciple of the master, it was tantamount to the plastic surgery Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.

Currently, Brazil is the second largest market for plastic surgery in the world after the U.S. That’s attributed to the high quality of service and its comparatively low cost.

Brazil is also becoming a medical tourism destination for other types of procedures. It has the most hospitals of any country outside the U.S. that are fully accredited by the Joint Commission (JCAHO), the largest U.S. hospital accreditation organization, according to MedRetreat, a website dedicated to medical tourism.

The flight time is approximately 8 to 12 hours from most US cities. That’s an additional reason that the country is predicted to become one of the world’s most dominant economies, according to Jim O’Neill of Goldman Sachs.

Panama is another country that’s hopped on the medical tourism bandwagon. The costs, on average, are 40 to 70 percent lower than costs for similar procedures in the U.S., according to a report on medical tourism published by the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) last November. Hospitals catering to foreigners are clean and English is the lingua franca among the personnel. Many of its doctors have been trained in the US and the country views medical tourism as a way of bolstering the economy.

Costa Rica, like Panama, has become a popular destination among North American patients for inexpensive, high-quality medical care. Costs of procedures are generally cost less than half of the same procedures in the U.S.; the price of a dental veneer, for instance, is approximately $350 in Panama, whereas the same procedure is $1,250 in New York or Chicago. With those types of savings, you can afford to take a vacation.

Malaysia’s medical tourism industry has experienced staggering growth over recent years. According to the Association of Private Hospitals, the number of foreigners seeking healthcare services in Malaysia has grown from 75,210 patients in 2001 to 296,687 patients in 2006.

The large volume of patients in 2006 generated approximately $59 million of revenue. It’s projected that the number of foreigners seeking medical treatment in Malaysia will continue to grow at a rate of 30 percent a year until 2010.

There’s wide array of available medical procedures—including dental, cosmetic and cardiac surgeries—at significantly lower costs than in the U.S. In Malaysia, cardiac bypass surgery costs approximately $6,000 to $7,000.

India has become a well-known medical tourist destination for cardiac and orthopedic procedures. In the past, American patients have traveled to India for procedures such as Birmingham hip resurfacing, which wasn’t unavailable in the U.S. since it hadn’t been approved by the FDA until recently.

Medical tourists also journey to India for procedures that cost a small king’s ransom in the U.S.; for example, Apollo Hospital in New Delhi charges $4,000 for cardiac surgery while the same procedure would cost about $30,000 in an American hospital.

But not all US doctors are sanguine over people traveling abroad for medical care. If something goes wrong, they’re in far-away countries. And many people don’t allow enough time for extensive follow-up visits.

But unless medical care (and not just cosmetic surgery which is a luxury), are covered by insurance, there’s bound to be a surge of people traveling overseas for various surgeries. It may mean life or death.

(Listen to me discuss this issue on WTOP.)

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