Archive for April, 2011

Medical Tourism

For many seniors, medical problems seem to multiply as we age, many requiring surgery. Medical tourism or offshore medicine has been around for a very long time. People seek medical procedures abroad that are a lot more costly in the United States or a procedure that might not even be available here. In an article in the Washington Post earlier this month, Manoj Jain, MD, sheds light on medical tourism.

Jain’s father sought dental assistance from a Boston dentist due to a toothache. The dentist recommended a dental crown and root canal procedures that cost around $2,000. His father decided to have the procedures performed in India while he was there for the holidays. The total cost? $200. Impressed with the results, his mother also decided to undergo dental treatment in India and had her front teeth fixed to close a gap. She estimated that even with the trip, she still saved about $3,000.

His parents are just two of the 875,000 American tourists in 2010 who traveled to other countries to seek medical care, undergoing procedures from dental work to heart bypass surgery to cosmetic treatments to hip replacements. Jain had not considered medical tourism until he visited Bangalore and met with Devi Shetty, a medical professional specializing in pediatric cardiothoracic surgery. He is also the founder of the Narayana Hrudayalaya Hospitals.

According to Shetty, bypass surgery in Bangalore costs from $2,000-$5,000, a fraction of the cost charged in the US. Shetty says that they are capable of keeping costs so low because they focus on improving the process and increasing the volume. Improved processes that include the latest innovations and surgical techniques from the US assures good results while volume creates better opportunities for more patients to afford the procedures.

According to National Center for Policy Analysis expert Devon Herrick, there are other factors that allow foreign hospitals to offer treatments at a lower cost: restricted malpractice liability, price transparency, fewer regulations and payments to third party companies and of course, lower costs of labor.

One glaring concern for Jain was the quality of health care, particularly in developing countries, but Shetty assured him there are established standards that hospitals involved in offshore medicine must pass. Such standards are implemented by the US-based Joint Commission International which has certified over 220 medical facilities overseas.

Medical tourism presents a whole new face of the health care industry, one that seeks to challenge doctors and medical professionals in the US to provide top quality yet inexpensive health care.

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Last year The Canadian Press reported, “The prevalence of cognitive impairment was significantly lower in women aged 65 and older who reported they were physically active as teens than in those who were inactive in their teen years,” according to a study at the Heart and Stroke Foundation Centre for Stroke Recovery at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto. Principal investigator Laura Middleton said, “If we want to optimally prevent dementia, it’s important to start physical activity as early in life as possible.”

There have been a number of studies showing the benefits of exercise to stave off dementia and cognitive impairment in our middle age years and later, but this study adds the dimension of the earlier in life the better. Hence, as seniors, we need to encourage our grandchildren to remain active.

Middleton worked on the project while she was at the University of California in San Francisco, and used data from the Study of Osteoporotic Fractures. She analyzed the responses of 9,704 women in four U.S. cities: Baltimore, Minneapolis, Portland, Ore., and Monongahela Valley, Pa. The study was published in the July issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Highlights include the following:

  • Women reported on their physical activity as teens, ages 30, 50, and late life.
  • People who were active as teenagers had a greater reduction in their risk of cognitive impairment compared to any of the other ages.
  • Prevalence of cognitive impairment in the women who’d been physically active in their teen years was 8.5 per cent, compared to 16.7 per cent among those who weren’t physically active as teens.
  • For those active versus inactive at age 30, prevalence of cognitive impairment at age 65 or older was 8.9 per cent compared to 12 per cent, and at age 50, 8.5 per cent versus 13.1 per cent.
  • Women who were inactive as teenagers and became active in later life still had a lower risk of cognitive impairment than those who remained inactive.

Louis Bherer, director of clinical research at the Montreal University Geriatric Institute, said most people in the field agree that physical activity is probably the most promising strategy to protect against cognitive decline, but he added that there are limitations to this study.

When a door is always in use, the hinges will never rust. ~Chinese Proverb. Let’s get moving to increase our gray matter.