Wednesday, October 31, 2007

So-called Medical Tourism and the NHS 

More NHS bashing from the Daily Mail on 'medical tourism', the numbers of Britons going abroad for hospital treatment, to Thailand and India for example. And not 'just' for cosmetic surgery but for vital treatments. More condemnations of our creaky system and the implication we should adopt another.

But as this US blogger post points out the development of facilities serving Medical Tourism industry is driven by the huge numers fleeing the excruciating US healthcare system. Medical refugees rather than tourists. This is what is funding the hospitals in India and Thailand. UK patients are just piggybacking on the new provisions.

Ezra Klein says in part:

We can talk about the 50,000 Americans who go to Bumrungrad hospital in Thailand every year for cheaper surgeries. We can go into this article, about the Indian hospitals primarily serving Americans, or this one, about the waves of Americans traveling abroad because they're unable to afford heart surgery. Indeed, there are more Americans -- 100,000 -- traveling abroad for cosmetic surgery alone than there are Britons seeking any type of services in foreign lands.

America is actually driving the medical tourism industry that some Britons are taking advantage of. The growth of foreign treatment centers aren't a result of the failings of the British health care system (of which there are many). They're a result of the cost of American health care, and the huge numbers of sick individuals we price out.

Lets keep a few facts straight in this healthcare propaganda war. I can recall a few years ago when the Medical Tourism problem was supposed to be people coming to the UK to enjoy our facilities...

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I wonder how many Europeans from countries with sensible health care systems are taking part in medical tourism, though? Probably not as many.

We all know the US has a useless health care system, but why should that stop us from looking at better-functioning European ones?

As for people coming to the UK - I live in the Czech Republic, and I know that Czechs going to live in the UK worry about having to use the NHS because of its terrible reputation.
The reality is that regardless of how many have or will engage in the practice of medical tourism or transplant tourism the fundamental issues driving it are:

1) Cost: High health care costs in the US is making it an attractive and reasonable option for the uninsured and the underinsured.

2) Quality: A full 25% of physicians in the US today are foreign born. Many, many more have been trained in the US and then return to their home countries to practice. That means that there are a lot of really, really good physicians outside the US and if you have the means and the desire, why not go international to get health care. So, now the wealthy (www.transplanttourism.info) will find it attractive (and trendy). I have a list of 50+ 'medical tourism' and 'transplant tourism' companies and that barely skims the surface.

3) Acceptability: HCA International has recently announced a relationship and access to a facility in Pakistan. HCA subscribers will soon be routed offshore to receive elective, non-emergency care and it will cut the cost of health care. It will result in higher profits by HCA. It will also put some physcians in an interesting position because as this trend continues they will be replaced one-by-one to some degree by those that can deliver the same or better quality services at a lower overall cost.

In summary, this means that it will attract the rich and the poor, the insured, the underinsured, and the uninsured regardless of what country you come from. I'm guessing, but in my mind that just about covers everyone.

It's a big world folks. It's hard to not imagine this as a natural event.
Hello Edis,

You ended your remarks with this: "In summary, this means that it will attract the rich and the poor, the insured, the underinsured, and the uninsured regardless of what country you come from. I'm guessing, but in my mind that just about covers everyone."

I could not agree more! I am not rich and am one of the hundreds of thousands in the US who does not have health insurance. I am also one who cannot afford ordinary health care in the US. Three times I have used a company in India who freely gives helps to find the right doctor and hospital for what ever ails you. Again, they do not charge a penny for their helps and if I were to get sick again, (1) I'd crawl to India if I had to, to get the kind of care I've received there three times before, and (2) I'd use America's Medical Solutions (www.americasmedicalsolutions.com) which is owned by Americans who live in Bombay, India. Their help takes all the concern out of going to a foreign country.
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