Article Date: 14 Jul 2007 – 0:00 PST
The exploding cost of healthcare in the United States has many Americans traveling overseas for treatment. With the aid of the Internet, patients can find international providers who will administer the healthcare they need at a fraction of the cost. Medical tourism, as this trend is called, has the potential to dramatically impact the economies of developing countries and has serious implications for healthcare around the globe.
Medical Tourism in Developing Countries explores this international trade in medical services and discusses its potential as an economic growth strategy. The book, to be released on August 7, is co-authored by Saint Joseph’s University Economist Milica Z. Bookman, Ph.D., and her daughter, an intellectual property attorney, Karla R. Bookman.
The United States is the only industrialized nation without free, universal healthcare. According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are currently 43.6 million people in the United States without health insurance. These individuals, however, are not the largest consumers of medical tourism.
“Not all uninsured individuals have the internet savvy and wherewithal to research something like medical tourism. Some do, and they would be good candidates for treatment abroad,” explains Dr. Bookman. “It’s more likely for the insured, facing huge deductibles, to take advantage of medical tourism.”
This exodus of Americans to developing countries in search of quality medical care raises questions about the limitations of the United States healthcare system, the flaws of which have recently been brought into the spotlight through Michael Moore’s latest movie, SiCKO. “Some of the procedures these patients are seeking are not available in the United States,” Dr. Bookman explains. “It takes a long time to wait for FDA approval, and many people don’t have that time.”
Choosing to receive medical, dental, cosmetic, surgical, or wellness treatments overseas requires some research. In the book, Dr. Bookman advises consumers to do an intensive Internet search and only choose hospitals with JCI accreditation an international standard measuring the quality of medical care outside of the United States.
According to Dr. Bookman, “the most popular procedure Americans go overseas for is dental work. The most popular countries for medical tourism include Thailand, India and Costa Rica.” Their reputation as developing countries may invoke images of botched surgeries and crude operating equipment. But Dr. Bookman explains that the level of care patients receive is just as good, and sometimes better, than care offered in the United States.
It is also not uncommon for patients receiving international medical care to bring their spouses and their families. “Many of these individuals use this as an opportunity to vacation as well,” notes Dr. Bookman. “Hospitals often offer courses and programs for families to take advantage of during their stay.”
In the book, Dr. Bookman looks at the potential for medical tourism to improve the health outcomes of these developing countries. “A successful medical tourism industry, when coupled with cooperation between the private and public sectors, may lead to public health improvements in developing countries,” Dr. Bookman says. “But at this point, we are still searching for a model to follow.”
Saint Joseph’s University