Although it’s estimated that globally five million people sought medical treatment abroad in 2015, many more are still skeptical of being treated away from home. We asked Dr. Sophie Chung, founder and CEO of medical travel hub Qunomedical.com, to debunk some of the myths surrounding medical tourism and to explain the reasons why many choose to undergo medical treatment in another country.
Why Do People Travel Abroad for Medical Treatment?
Today, more and more people are exploring their options and traveling abroad for more affordable medical and dental treatments, but cost isn’t the only draw according to Dr. Chung:
“For most patients cost is a huge factor but many travel abroad to gain access to world-class specialists and facilities which just happen to be available at reduced rates. Others are attracted by the drastically reduced waiting times. Just to give you an example, patients may have to wait over a hundred days to get a hip replacement in the U.S., but they can receive this kind of procedure in Mexico within two weeks and for a fraction of the price.”
Myth 1: Medical Tourism Is Unsafe
It’s difficult to know where to start when searching for a doctor and hospital you can trust. Not only are you putting your health in the hands of others, there’s the added pressure of finding treatment for your budget.
Dr. Chung says that it is absolutely crucial to make sure that the hospitals and doctors you are considering are either internationally accredited or have the highest national accreditations to ensure that you’re getting treatment that is either as good as or better than in the U.S.: “First of all, it’s important to remember that there are risks involved if you choose to undergo medical treatment abroad but they can be avoided. Healthcare standards and medical practices in some countries differ from those in the United States and this could result in lower quality medical care. If the facility you choose doesn’t meet U.S. standards, doctors may reuse needles between patients or perform other unsafe practices, which can transmit diseases such as hepatitis B or C, malaria or HIV. Patients can also be put at risk if the blood supply hasn’t been screened for blood-borne infections, and in some countries medication may be poor quality or even counterfeit. These very real risks involved in having a procedure abroad can, however, be avoided simply by choosing a fully- accredited hospital which is recognized as providing a high standard of healthcare by an international regulatory body such as the Joint Commission International. At Qunomedical, we work exclusively with institutions that have received accreditations from the Joint Commission International (JCI) or have the highest national accreditation.”
Hospitals with the following certifications ensure that you will receive a high standard of medical care:
Joint Commission International (JCI)
Hospital Accreditation (HA) Thailand
American Association for Accreditation of Ambulatory Surgery Facilities (AAAASF)
National Accreditation Board for Hospitals & Healthcare Providers (NABH)
Myth 2: Doctors in Other Countries Aren’t as Qualified as Doctors in the U.S. or the UK
According to Dr. Chung, “Doctors working in internationally accredited hospitals abroad will be as qualified as doctors working in hospitals in the United States - some may even have been trained in the U.S.”. To ensure your own safety, her top tip for patients is to choose a hospital based on the expertise of the surgeons and doctors:
“It can be challenging for patients to access and understand the qualifications of doctors around the world so choosing an internationally accredited hospital is one way of ensuring that you’ll be treated by the best doctors. When choosing a destination, don’t just go for the cheapest option. It’s wise to choose a hospital with surgeons that are highly specialized in, and who have an excellent reputation for performing the type of procedure you’re interested in. A good doctor should make patients aware of any possible complications and side effects that could arise from the treatment, and be available to contact if you have any questions or concerns once you’ve arrived back in the States. We’ve designed Qunomedical.com so that it’s easy for patients to view the qualifications and certifications of the doctors and hospitals, and read patient reviews.”
Myth 3: People Only Travel Abroad for Plastic Surgery
While plastic surgeries including breast implants, liposuction, and hair transplant surgeries account for some of the most popular procedures that patients travel abroad for, a number of medical tourists also undergo weight- loss surgery, fertility treatments (including IVF), sex-reassignment surgery, and life-saving surgeries like cardiac surgery, and cancer treatment abroad. Many choose to leave the United States in order to have life-threatening conditions treated by world-class specialists around the world and they can do so while paying up to 80% less than they would at home. Preventive medicine is also becoming increasingly popular, and many hospitals abroad offer thorough physical exams including scans and blood tests at discount prices. Several hospitals in for example Thailand, Malaysia and Mexico offer fixed-price checkup and screening packages for medical tourists.”
Should You Consider Having Medical Treatment Abroad?
Clearly medical tourism has its benefits, but there are those who are still wary of leaving home to find treatment. We asked Dr. Chung what advice she’d give to someone considering having medical treatment abroad to ensure that they have a safe and positive experience:
“In addition to choosing an internationally accredited hospital, you should make sure that you read any reviews, complaints, comments, reports and evaluations you can find about the hospitals you’re considering. Think carefully before booking any treatment abroad if the hospital or medical travel company you’re considering booking with try to give you a hard sell or pressure you into making a decision too quickly. Additionally if they don’t provide you with all of the information you request, don’t talk about aftercare, and don’t discuss possible complications or side effects you should have second thoughts. You should feel satisfied with the hospital’s accreditations and the qualifications of the medical team who will be operating on you. Make sure that you have a written agreement with the healthcare facility detailing the treatments, medications, and care covered in the cost of the trip before paying anything. Luckily cost and quality don’t always go hand in hand so high-quality treatment may be available to you at a much lower price in another part of the world!”