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Medical Tourism - Health care disrupter or fringe service?

by John W. Mitchell, Senior Correspondent | January 21, 2015
Primary Care
From the January 2015 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

Because medical tourism appears to be much more of a viable option for the uninsured, the practice self-divides into two groups. Self-pay, as opposed to insured patients, are reported in the Deloitte survey as more likely to travel abroad for medical procedures.

“Medical tourism has opened up the store throughout the world,” says Joe Harkins with the U.S.-based Medical Tourism Association, speaking for Reneé-Marie Stephano, president and a founder of the association, who was traveling out of the country. “Medical tourism offers both price-point and procedures that may not be available to a patient in their community or country.”

Many medical tourism and destination locations go hand-in-hand — location is a strong part of the draw.

“South Florida is a really nice place to recover,” says Paley who cites the contribution location makes to the healing process. “The warm climate is helpful to patient attitude, which is vital to recovery. My patients can rehab outside without wearing covers on the devices I install as part of their treatment. And they can swim in a pool or the ocean —saltwater is very good for healing wounds.”

About 10 percent of Paley’s practice is for “cosmetic limb lengthening,” a treatment for people who want to be taller. He regularly sees patients who have gone to programs in other countries who “rebound” to him with complications. According to Paley, programs in other countries will charge as little as $10,000 for limb lengthening that can result in complications, compared to up to $80,000 for a procedure at his practice. He said it can cost up to 200 percent more than the original charge to correct a complication.

Concerns about the quality and safety of medical tourism are a recurring theme. The American Medical Association’s policy H-450.937 lays out the parameters that it feels constitutes acceptable care under a medical tourism delivery model. The policy covers nine points including the directives that: patients should only be referred to institutions that have been accredited by recognized international accrediting bodies (Joint Commission International or International Society for Quality in Healthcare); financial incentives should not inappropriately limit treatment options; transfer of patient records should be consistent with HIPAA guidelines; and care should be coordinated with providers in their local community.

“The risks of seeking care outside the U.S. include the possibility that patients may have little recourse for poor outcomes,” says Robert Mills, media outreach manager for the AMA. “This is why it is vital for patients to ensure their care will be coordinated upon return to the U.S. Patients must also determine whether care will be covered (by insurance) once they return to the U.S.”

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