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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Filed under: AgingMedical TourismSenior Health

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