Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Medical Tourism

In searching online for information on quality dental care in El Salvador I came across an interesting concept called "Medical Tourism".  Medical Tourism is the practice of traveling abroad to receive medical and dental procedures.  The concept is decades old in Europe and has been practiced for hundreds of years in Asia, but it's a fairly new idea for Americans.  There are actually a number of companies out there that provide what I see as a "package" service that includes the care, hotel stay and expenses for a sort of "medical retreat."  I find this quite interesting and can see the appeal for many Americans in a lot of different situations.  I also think that besides the "retreats", word of mouth care is just as functional.  

As I said there are many reasons why someone would want to travel to a foreign country to receive medical or dental services.  The #1 reason is Cost Savings.  Here is an excerpt from Medretreat that discusses why and how the savings can be so high in acquiring services abroad:

1.      “Many workers in the health care industry are basically getting paid to shuffle paper around. The health insurance companies are paid to deny health claims and the government workers at Medicare and Medicaid offices are paid to find new ways to deny payments to doctors and hospitals for services rendered. Thus, doctors' offices and hospitals have to employ entire armies of people to sit around and reclassify procedures in ways that can get paid by insurance companies, Medicare and Medicaid. It's a massive waste of time, money and effort.”

”As a medical tourist in another country, you eliminate these paperwork shufflers. And right there, you can save as much as 80% right off the bat. Because now, your dollars are actually going to the surgeons, anesthesiologists and other hospital workers who are attending to you during your surgical procedure. Whereas in the United States, your money is going to the insurance company and then the insurance company money is being used to pay paper shufflers.”
2.      “Another reason these surgical procedures are so much more affordable in Asia or other regions of the world is because of the liability issue. In the United States, doctors and hospitals must carry extremely expensive medical malpractice insurance policies. And patients seem to love to sue in the United States. In contrast, when you undergo a surgical procedure as a medical tourist in an offshore hospital, you sign paperwork that says you agree not to sue under certain conditions. Thus, you save a fortune by essentially not funding the legal fees, settlements and malpractice insurance costs normally found in a U.S.-based healthcare practice.”

Another reason for one to consider for travel abroad is the experience of a new country or a vacation and medical/dental work in one!  Even after the cost of plane tickets and expenses, the cost of traveling to another country is still less than what you are typically going to pay in the States for the same services.  Why not go somewhere else and get it cheaper and have a vacation.  

I think the number one hesitation of getting any kind of medical care outside of the United States is the belief that the care is quite up to par.  I can tell you that this is not always the case.  I'm sure it is different country by country, but I can personally say that in El Salvador the care is equal if not more that in the United States.  There are sites you can check online for doctors and dentists that are reputable and as I stated before, word of mouth is the best.  

We took a chance when we first arrived in El Salvador in search of dental care for Liliana.  We had been to a very high priced dentist in Indianapolis before we came down here only to be hit with a very pricey quote we knew we would never be able to pay, especially without insurance at the time.  We got the opinion and quote of the dentist in Carmel, Indiana and then talked with a dentist here and got a quote and opinion from her.  I can say without a doubt that we have always been happy with the quality of care in the dentist we chose.  She is only 2 blocks from our house, has great prices and best of all has all the up-to-date equipment as in the States.  And usually I would find that since I am American I would get charged more than a local, but our dentist actually gives us even deeper discounts and free services!  She also is always going to Guatemala for continuing education every month.  She has given us some different perspectives on Liliana's teeth than we received in the States and we've always trusted in what she has to say.  She does want to put metal in Liliana's mouth for reasons that make a lot of sense, but she is understanding of why I do not want to do that due to the fact that Liliana already tests high for heavy metals in her body.  The dentist always respects our decisions and is very educated in her craft.  She is also very good with kids and has a 3 year old herself so she understands our struggles with getting Liliana to brush her teeth and other issues.  Never once have I ever felt that she is judging us, which is something I always find in the States.  No matter how nice the doctor/dentist is, I always feel they are judging my choices or decisions.  With this dentist I have never once felt that.  She just gives us the facts straight on and if we haven't followed through, she tells us what the consequences will be plain and simple.  

My mom has recommended my brother and my grandma to come to El Salvador for dental work.  My grandma was quoted about $9000 for the bridge she needs and we have told her how much she could save by doing it here.  We will see if either one of them actually come here, but it's a good option.  And after all my researching, it's interesting to see that there is really a market for this kind of thing and that hundreds of thousands of people are actually doing it.  It's definitely appealing for the majority of people without insurance and even with insurance the doctor may just be tacking on more services for the sake of making more money.  

Below are some links to websites with more information about international medical care:

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