Medical tourism makes me queasy. While a growing trend, I have put off writing about it. However, on January 28, CBC Radio Noon hosted a call-in program about it.
When it comes to medical travel/medical tourism the advice is do your research. Great. But as a lay person who do you research and vet foreign hospitals, professionals, procedures?
At home we rely on the advice of our doctors – if you have one – or a specialist they have recommended or someone at the local clinic or hospital. If someone feels foreign treatment is preferable, then shouldn’t the research start with your local medical professional? If she/he doesn’t have someone to recommend, they might at least know of places to avoid.
I understand the frustration of being on a waiting list, but I continue to question why Nova Scotia’s medical system can’t improve wait lists to meet national standards? Patients have paid for and continue to pay for the system, so why should they have to pay again for foreign treatment?
Two years ago a U.S. colleague told me his mother suffered a stroke. Her hospitalization, therapy and long-term care cost $2.5 million! This explains why three in 10 Americans are prepared to travel for treatment. Because of the extraordinary costs associated with American care there is a Medical Tourism Association for this multi-trillion-dollar industry. “Industry” is their description for medical tourism. Their magazine is here: http://www.MedicalTourismAssociation.com.
For Canadians considering the foreign option think about this:
- beyond checking the medical qualifications of the doctor and team (and how do you really judge those?), are the physical conditions of the facility in which they work. You can look on-line, but what’s to say the site is truthful, fully informed, up-to-date, or hasn’t been fed misinformation? Just as there are less-than-honest hotel reviews, so can there be similar reviews for facilities.
- Are you prepared to and can you afford to pay for treatment? A January 2014 CBC article priced knee replacement surgery in the Turks and Caicos at $40,000.
- In addition to the actual treatment and care costs are the travel costs: airfare, ground transportation, accommodations, meals.
- Are you going to do this on your own or will someone accompany you for support? That carries additional dollar and emotional costs. Maybe even physical costs.
- What happens if there are complications? How adapt are you or the person with you at dealing with issues in foreign countries, cultures and languages?
- Have you considered the travel implications on your recovery? Travel can be tiring. If you are recovering from treatment, that can put additional stress on your body. The medical team may want you to wait for an extended period before travelling. And given the potential for delays and flight cancellations – as I write this, 11,100 flights in North America have been cancelled or delayed due to storms – you could be stuck in transit longer than is healthy for you. Additionally, have you checked airlines to see if they have prohibitions on transporting people in recovery? Some airlines don’t allow women who are eight months pregnant to fly for fear of early delivery, so are there other regulations?
- Does your doctor approve?
- Will you be able to receive follow-up treatment when you return home? There have been incidents of doctors in other parts of Canada refusing to treat patients who went out of country for surgery. The doctors didn’t want to become responsible for someone else’s mistakes or dropped the patient for going against medical advice. Some treatments, like a knee replacement, are clear cut, while other treatments may be something the patient wants but be of no actual medical advantage.
- If you go out of country, do you have all the pertinent medical records with you or forwarded to the foreign treatment team? And will they provide you with all the correct records for your return home? What if something is overlooked or their procedures are so different that there is a gap in the information available to your domestic medical professional?
- Finally, does your foreign medical care negatively impact the care available to citizens of that country? Are medical professionals diverting their skills from local need in favour of foreigners prepared to pay, thereby contributing to their wait times?
Going abroad for care isn’t a simple matter of jumping a queue at home.