Medical Tourism? I'm not dying to try it.
There was an article in a recent Economist (August 16, 2008) on the medical tourism phenomenon.
Their article started out noting the Robin Cook's new medi-thriller, Foreign Body, centers on this topic, and as The Economist notes, "Robin Cook knows how to spot the latest scare in medicine."
I don't find the notion of medical tourism particularly scary. The hospitals that medical tourists are checking in to are not the Third World horror shows familiar to us from TV and the movies. No, the ones I've "seen" are state-of-the art, modern, gleaming facilities that are not just a far remove from flies and buckets of bloody bandages - they're also a far remove from big city dumps like St. Elsewhere and Emergency's County General.
And most of us have gotten used to "foreign" doctors - until she left her practice to spend time with her kids, my gynecologist was Indian - so we don't have to have Dr. Welby patting our hands to feel comfortable.
Some of the medical tourism - and, from what I can tell by checking out some of the medical travel agencies, a good sum of it - is of the uncovered, elective nip and tuck variety. But some of the tourists are those who more or less self-insure themselves, and find it cheaper to have that cardiac procedure or hip replacement "over there" - even when you factor in the plane fare.
What surprised me in the article were the companies that are encouraging employees to get out of town.
One company cited was Hannaford, a regional grocery chain HQ'd in Maine, which
...now offers its 27,000 employees the option of getting a number of medical procedures done in Singapore rather than America—at a saving to the employee of $2,500-3,000 in co-payments and deductibles.
Singapore is just one of the places welcoming medical tourists. One of the (several) medical travel outfits I looked at could book your tour to Costa Rica, India, Poland, or Turkey.
When you browse Med Journey's cite, you'll see that they take care of everything, aspirin and catheter and "Deluxe Hospital Accommodations" to concierge services, transportation, side-tours and "5 Star recuperative accommodations at some of the worlds finest hotels and resorts (3 meals per day included)."
It's the "recuperative accommodations" that underscore why I'm not dying to go abroad to have a procedure done.
One thing to hang around the "5 Star recuperative accommodations" and take a side tour if you're recuperating from something like a nose job.
But if you have something really serious done?
I'd rather recuperate in my own bed - or in a bed in the home of one of my sisters (thanks in advance, guys) - where someone who cares about me could help care for me.
And what if something really serious goes wrong with that gall bladder removal or cardiac bypass.
Not that I'd have gone alone to begin with, but things gang really and truly agly, I'm going to want to see my full posse.
If I'm ailing, I'm going to want people bringing me flowers, and People Magazine, and Chapstick.
Especially if things look end-game, I'm going to want to see more than my husband (who would likely be the one there with me). I'm going to want to see my sisters, brothers, and nieces. I'm going to want to see The Banshees (my sister-cousin girl gang). I'm going to want to see my friends.
And I really don't think it's reasonable to expect all that many of them to get on the next flight to Warsaw or Singapore.
If I die as a vacation kind of tourist, that's one thing. I'll probably die happy, more or less.
But as a medical tourist?
A destination wedding is one thing. A destination deathbed? I don't think so.
Not to mention, who wants to get on a crowded flight when they're not feeling 100%.
No thanks to that one, too.
Others are apparently more bullish on medical tourism. The Economist article cites a Deloitte study that:
... predicts that the number of Americans travelling abroad for treatment will soar from 750,000 last year to 6m by 2010 and reach 10m by 2012.
I won't be one of them.