October 3, 2019
How different is getting a ‘cab’ now that we have Uber? And how many new ways can you store money with app-based banks?
Thanks to the internet and capitalism, our world is smaller and more connected than ever.
Medicine is no different. Air travel is accessible and cheap thanks to capitalism, which means now, more than ever, where you go for treatment is your choice.
Where you live and work no longer matters: If your local medical services are bad, and you find a place you want to go, you can.
This is fantastic! There’s nothing that makes a doctor happier than patients who have choice and access. It makes our mission to treat as many people as we can that much easier.
However, it can seem like a daunting prospect to go abroad for medical treatment, and people have their own questions and anxieties.
So where’s my guide for how to get the most out of medical tourism? Read on to find out…
Find a doctor with a good reputation for medical tourism
Generally, I think people’s fears around foreign doctors are misplaced. The Western world is indeed the most developed, with the best record for safety and proficiency. That’s true.
But other countries certainly come very close. I would have no qualms about getting surgery in, say, Mexico (I actually had bariatric surgery there!), or Brazil.
But given they live in another country, it can be difficult to know what the yardstick is for quality, or what liability options there are should something go wrong.
There’s a neat trick you can use to ‘verify’ a doctor’s quality. And that is to look at what institutions they are associated with.
For example, If I were to see a GP or surgeon in Thailand I’d look to see if they were associated with Bumrungrad International Hospital. If they are, I know they’re legitimate: that hospital has an outstanding reputation and is very much in the spotlight.
Work out the language barriers when abroad
When it comes to business, you can often overcome language barriers. Business and numbers have their own language, people generally know what they want, and there are intermediaries to fill the gaps.
But medicine is different because every detail matters. One tiny miscommunication or misunderstanding can be fatal. In fact, medical error is the fourth leading cause of death in the US.
Throw in a language barrier, and that risk just got bigger. So you really need to pick a country that has a lot of English speakers, or whose main language is already English. Thankfully, lots of non-English speaking countries have hospitals staffed with tons of English speakers to counteract this problem.
Of course, if you speak another language, you open yourself up to a lot more options.
Work out whether they’re a specialist abroad
When you choose a GP or surgeon, it’s important to know whether they practice a lot of different types of medicine, or are highly specialized in one.
It’s a tradeoff. Highly specialized doctors are generally more expensive, but you know they’ll be high quality for the specific service you want.
If you go abroad, it can be worth it to go ‘all-in’ on the quality, as the risks are higher than they are with your local doctor if things go wrong.
Moreover, the centers of excellence for certain procedures are in different countries. If you want heart surgery, India is a very good option. If you want plastic surgery, go to Brazil or Colombia.
After all, if you fly out especially for something, why not make it the best it can be?
Have a back-up plan for treatment
I’ll be honest, medical tourism is not risk-free. It has huge benefits, with better quality for a lower cost, but the fact you’re abroad is certainly a risk factor.
I wouldn’t say it’s a reason to shun it, though: American healthcare is riddled with problems and risks too.
But you need to have a back-up plan in case the worst does happen. You need to work out how easy it is to get back home, who will take care of you in the meantime and what legal power you have as someone in a foreign country.
Part of success in any endeavor is a good contingency plan, and in medicine, this is even more important.
Shop around for good doctors abroad
One of the other major benefits of the internet is the fact that information is widely available and faster to access than ever.
Previously, we had to rely on the local word-of-mouth to know what was good and what was not. Now? We just open a browser and search for it.
This allows a reputation to permeate globally. Anyone can write a review or influence someone’s reputation anywhere in the world.
And this means now, more than ever, you don’t have to pick the first doctor who comes up in your search. Even one-hour spent searching will increase the quality of your options drastically.
Life hack: Negative reviews count more than positive ones. Some people buy positive reviews from bots, while negative reviews are harder to fake. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
Medical tourism is an excellent idea, and I wish more people seriously considered it. It allows you unparalleled choice, and even with the costs of flights included it often comes out cheaper.But such an endeavor requires proper planning and consideration. You need to examine why you want to go abroad, exactly what you want and how you’ll manage the barriers and risks that come with it.