Question: How did you develop an interest in medical tourism? What motivated you to write Patients Beyond Borders?
In 1997, I co-founded MyDailyHealth, an online, profile-driven preventive health service licensed to insurers and employers. Through that experience, I became aware of the looming US healthcare crisis. When contemporary international travel began to gain popularity, our research began. I became personally involved in medical tourism when I joined my father in Mexico, where he had some $24,000 worth of restorative dental work done, at a total savings of around $11,000. As international medical travel becomes a significant component of the US and global healthcare landscape, and the larger political debate, we see “Patients Beyond Borders” and related efforts as forming a mouthpiece of consumer advocacy for the more than 75 million un- and underinsured Americans aging into financially challenging medical procedures.
Question: How did you collect the information you used in your book? What form of research did you do?
A small team of authors and researchers worked on the book for nearly three years, profiling various medical tourism destinations, vetting hundreds of hospitals and clinics, investigating regional and international accreditation, interviewing patients, patient’s families, medical practitioners and administrators, health travel agents, and more. Extensive surveys were sent to treatment centers. The author has visited more then 40 hospitals in 7 destinations.
Question: Do you expect the medical tourism trend growing in the US?
Medical tourism is growing in the US 15-20% annually. This figure is expected to rise as baby boomers age into expensive treatment and as the industry gains infrastructure, raising consumer confidence in international medical travel.
Question: What do you tell people to keep in mind when deciding upon an overseas facility for treatment?
Above all, be an informed, scrutinizing healthcare consumer. Thoroughly check hospitals accreditation(s), number of surgeries performed, success/mortality rates; in the same manner, patients should check physicians’ credentials, board certifications, professional affiliations.
Question: Do you hear from happy or otherwise unhappy customers thanking you or complaining to you about the advice you gave in your book?
We’re often contacted by prospective patients, seeking supplemental advice to the information found in “Patients Beyond Borders.” As we do not recommend specific hospitals, physicians or courses of treatment, we are often of limited help to these callers.
Question: Are there hospitals out there that do not have international accreditations like JCI but still maintain best practice standards of care? If yes, why do they choose not to be accredited?
Yes, dozens of top-flight hospitals abroad are certified by their country’s accreditation agency, or an international agency other than JCI. Our research shows that Americans are gaining familiarity with accreditation, and gain comfort in JCI-accredited hospitals, as well as hospitals that partner with American medical centers, such as Harvard Medical, Johns Hopkins and Cleveland Clinic.
Question: How are the American healthcare providers reacting to Americans traveling overseas for care?
Regarding hospitals many of America’s best hospitals are aggressively partnering with hospitals and hospital networks abroad, sharing research, technical skills and sometimes staff. Duke University Medical Center is building a Graduate Medical School in Singapore. The list of partnerships grows monthly.
On the physician front, many doctors—understandably--feel threatened by medical tourism, and are openly hostile. Many lack knowledge about overseas hospitals and are not in a position to properly inform their patients. We believe that as the US healthcare crisis deepens, physicians and surgeons must engage in more collaborative relationships with patients who express wishes to travel overseas for affordable treatment.
Question: How about insurance companies? Do you anticipate them jumping into the medical tourism business?
Insurance companies are just getting their feet wet, and some have launched pilot programs (e.g. Blue Cross Blue Shield of SC). Pressured by employers large and small, carriers are seeking alternatives to the very costly treatments that break most plans. As challenges of liability and medical transparency are met, we expect to see insurance companies become more aggressive and creative on this front, offering specialized carve-outs for medical travelers and employers.
Question: To those Americans who are skeptical about going to a third world country for care, what do you have to say?
I say, we hear you. Even when armed with the facts, it’s hard for most people to imagine themselves actually boarding a plane for a medical procedure in a far-flung land. Medical travel isn’t for everyone. That said, there’s safety in numbers, and last year more than 150,000 Americans traveled abroad for a wide array of treatment, saved more than $2 billion collectively, and came home to tell about it.
Question: Why have you dedicated a full book on Singapore medical tourism?
The “Patients Beyond Borders Singapore Edition” is the first in what we expect to be a series of country-specific editions, which allow us to offer in-depth information that a general guidebook cannot. The Singapore Edition was the result of a very successful collaboration between our company, Singapore Medicine and the Singapore Tourism Board. With its excellent medical and research infrastructure, Singapore is the ideal candidate for the first edition of this series.
Question: What’s coming next for you?
A Second Edition of the book (mid-2008), greater Web presence, creative partnerships with carriers and providers, more country-specific editions.
Question: Would you like to add anything else?
We’re happy to hear from patients and others who wish to share their stories or otherwise comment on international medical travel.
Thanks, Mr. Woodman, for your time and your valuable insight. We wish you all the best with Patients Beyond Borders Singapore Edition.
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This exclusive interview was brought to you by Healthbase. For more information on medical tourism visit Healthbase.com.
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