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Health or Lifestyle: Medical Tourism Allows Both

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Dr. Michael Sigler    
Sep 29, 2011

Salomon Shamah, Administrator of the Panama Tourism Authority coined the phrase “Panama, we bring the world together,” and was quoted stating, “The new Cold War is the war for tourists. It’s a friendly war, but still, it’s a war.”

The Frustration of Rising Health Care Costs

Imagine yourself in your country just after you have left your doctor’s office. His Secretary handed you a bill. Let’s say, for example, that it was a bill of $4,000 for an 8 hour anti-aging evaluation and, post evaluation, you’ll receive another automatic billing payment of $1,200 to $2,400.00 per month. This alone is a very de-motivating factor when you return home, even if you are managing to thrive in the current economy.

Like most savvy consumers today, you begin searching Google for “anti aging therapies” and call around to this place and that place only to find that the medical procedure is roughly the same in your area. That’s a huge disappointment, right? Well, that’s where medical tourism can make a huge change in not only the quality of people’s lives, but also their pocket books.

During your search for quality healthcare, did you ever consider Googling the cost of your procedure in another country? The thought likely never crossed your mind; however, this is precisely how an ever growing percentage of Americans are saving a fortune on healthcare. Medical tourism has not grown exponentially in the past decade because of failure. Instead, it has flourished because people are happy with the results and the savings. With more people realizing that they can receive procedures overseas at a fraction of the U.S. price for the same quality care, the numbers continue to grow.

Is Health in Medical Tourism the Solution?

Now imagine yourself on a plane looking through that in-flight magazine, your ears begin to pop as the plane descends and the captain says, “This is Captain Vargas calling from the cock pit. It’s a beautiful sunshiny day in Panama City, Panama. The temperature is 82 degrees Fahrenheit with a slight breeze out of the north. Those on the left side of the plane will see the Pearl Islands. Those of you on the right will see The Amador Causeway. Flight attendants prepare for landing.”

Many countries, both inbound and outbound, provide VIP services where a representative greets you at the gate and escorts you through the herds of people waiting to step into these “unknown” paradises around the world. You casually stream by them and, minutes later, your bags are being loaded into your private limo. You are whisked away to private suite, waiting with Wi-Fi and Perrier water. You look at your husband or wife and kiss them, thanking them for bringing you.

If you think this description is overrated, it’s not. You will likely be pleasantly astonished at the high quality of service that medical tourists are provided. You see, the countries participating in medical tourism realize that you can receive the same care in your own country, but by providing the same level of care at a huge discount and combining that care with service that is absolutely unbeatable; it is difficult not to take advantage of.

Cutting Pharmaceutical Costs in Half

Countless Americans have to determine whether to spend their money on much needed pharmaceuticals or keep the electric on in their home. With social security cuts constantly being discussed in the U.S. political agenda, it is hard to predict what tomorrow will bring for those that depend on social security to pay for medical care. However, for those who have managed to save for retirement or set aside funds to pay for healthcare, medical tourism is a viable alternative. Countries like Panama, El Salvador, Columbia, Ecuador and Costa Rica can provide the same quality of care and medications at half the price – and in most cases, more than 70% less.

When attempting to determine the cost of medical care, you must first determine what you are charged by physicians, hospital or rehabilitation facilities, diagnostic facilities and pharmacies. Years ago, the bulk of the costs of medical care were created by the fees associated with Physicians, diagnostics and hospitals. In fact, it represented nearly 90% of the cost of health care.

As pharmaceutical companies grew and medical breakthroughs were realized, pharmaceuticals began being prescribed for nearly everything under the sun. Patients saw a shift in the expense paradigm, with pharmaceuticals representing a larger percentage of the overall cost of health care. Today, with the majority of geriatric patients taking an average of five different types of medication daily, it is not at all uncommon for patients to feel stress simply due to the fact that prescription costs are depleting their savings.

Many retirees have a looming fear that, should a surgical procedure become necessary, their savings can be wiped out entirely.
The difference that can be made by utilizing medical tourism is significant simply because the majority of the countries participating in medical tourism are home to fabulous compounding pharmacies. These pharmacies and the medications that they produce go through a rigorous testing process to ensure that the medication is always of top quality, but because the pharmaceuticals are made in-house, the price is drastically reduced. This results in patients being able to save amazing amounts of money on prescriptions.

Let’s use Europe and the U.S. as an example. In Europe, the cost of hormone treatments might run the average patient $2400 each month. In the U.S., the cost would be around $1860. However, in Costa Rica, the costs for the same prescriptions would be about $440. As you can clearly see, the possible savings are remarkable. This is precisely why many patients are choosing to participate in medical tourism.

You might be surprised, but the savings doesn’t end with prescriptions. These countries can also provide extremely deep discounts on supplies, lab fees and professional fees. For medical tourists coming from Europe or the U.S., the savings in just one visit can be well worth the trip. However, the savings possible over multiple trips can be the difference between feast and famine for your retirement savings.

For instance, a woman interested in breast augmentation might see an average cost of $8000 in the United States. However, if she chose to travel to Ecuador, the total cost of the trip and the procedure could be as little as $4000. The same is true for a wide variety of procedures, giving patients a true choice when it comes to how they choose to spend their money on medical care.

What Types of Medical Services Are Available with Medical Tourism?

The types of medical services available to medical tourists are the very same services that are available here in the states, which range from a variety of elective procedures to more complex, specialized surgeries. However, with the cost of the procedure, anesthesia, accommodations, airfare, meals and land transportation included, medical tourism is becoming more attractive to the American patient. 
Complicated heart surgeries can be costly, often in upwards of $100,000 in the United States; however, in countries like Panama or El Salvador, the same procedure can be combined with the costs of rehabilitation and travel and still equal less than 40% of that U.S. bill. The same is true for elective procedures like breast reductions or implants, liposuction, facelifts and more.

Medical Tourism Is Not Just for Patients

Not surprisingly, medical tourism is an interest of doctors in the U.S. as well. In fact, countless U.S. based doctors schedule travel to foreign countries each year to take part in comprehensive continuing medical education programs. These programs allow them to expand their knowledge in their area of expertise, while also enjoying the benefits of an exotic, vacation-like environment. The irony? Doctors are also paying less to continue their education in foreign countries, yet the implementation of this knowledge comes at a hefty charge to the U.S. patient.

U.S. doctors can currently take advantage of continuing medical education courses in Age Management Medicine, Cardio/Pulmonary, Clinical Endocrinology, Dermatology, Geriatric Medicine, Internal Medicine, Women’s Health and Neurology, as well as a wide array of specialty conferences. The conferences themselves are held at amazing resorts in several exotic locations, like Hawaii, Nassau, Costa Rica, Aruba and the Virgin Islands. Of course, other locations such as London, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Napa and Niagara Falls also hold conferences as well.

These conferences are generally three days in length, with only four to five hours of the day being dedicated to the conference. However, longer conferences do exist. In fact, some of these CME courses actually require a fair amount of time via online lessons, conference time and hands on clinical evaluation.

Do Insurance Companies Pay for Medical Tourism?

Even insurance companies are jumping aboard the medical tourism ship, which could play a primary role in the healthcare costs in the U.S. over time. It makes sense. Why would an insurance company want to reimburse a hospital thousands of dollars for a covered procedure when the patient can go to a country like Panama and have the same procedure performed at less than half the cost with travel and accommodations included?

Unfortunately, not all insurance companies are on board with medical tourism just yet. Individuals that currently have insurance policies should first consult with their insurance provider before scheduling to have any procedures performed outside of their country. This simple phone call can alleviate any misconceptions about coverage and enlighten patients to the true amount of their financial responsibility if the choice is made to participate in medical tourism.

Is Medical Tourism the Right Choice for Your Health and Lifestyle?

Medical tourism is not right for everyone. Those who do not enjoy traveling or being far away from family and friends might rather continue their healthcare regimen at home. Likewise, those who are unable to travel due to severe health issues will obviously not be good candidates for medical tourism.

Individuals interested in participating in medical tourism should take great care to ensure that the lines of communication are open and flowing with information. Patients should be aware that accreditation and other standards do vary worldwide. Certain destinations may pose a higher risk for medical tourists than other locations, making it extremely important for patients and family members to do their homework before selecting a destination for medical care. Reviewing crime rates, safety of tourists and medical standards should always be of the utmost concern.

The top priority of any great clinic should always be to reduce the patient’s stress. In the medical tourism world, patients will find countless clinics that excel in this area. With such a wide array of clinics readily equipped with highly skilled teams that consistently go above and beyond for their patients, most individuals will find that medical tourism is not just a necessary cost saving measure for health, but an enjoyable one as well.

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