It's easy to see why people are tempted to combine travel with surgery: The cost of medical procedures is often much lower abroad. For example, Howard Staab, a 53-year-old North Carolina contractor, was healthy in the summer of 2004--or so he thought, until his doctor found a life-threatening heart condition during a routine physical.
Uninsured, Staab had always paid out-of-pocket for medical care. But discussions with the local hospital revealed uninsured patients pay much higher fees than insurers do. Staab faced a $200,000 bill for the heart valve surgery he needed if it was performed there.
In September 2004, Staab got his surgery at a state-of-the-art facility in New Delhi, India. He is part of a growing number of people traveling to other countries in search of low-cost medical care. Staab's surgery cost $6,700; post-operative lodging and airfare added another $1,500 to the tab.
PlanetHospital.com is a Web site that connects patients with high-quality medical facilities in India, Thailand, Singapore, Mexico, and Costa Rica.
When potential clients contact PlanetHospital.com, the medical staff reviews their medical history to assess whether they are well enough to travel; some people may have waited too long to seek care and therefore are not healthy enough to make a long flight to India or Thailand.
Staff members then help clients choose appropriate physicians and destinations for care; the medical records are digitized and placed online to allow physicians in the destination country to easily review the patients' medical histories; PlanetHospital.com then arranges conference calls between the physician and patient to discuss the procedure.
Once the patient chooses a physician, arrangements are made for the procedure. PlanetHospital.com assigns a case manager from the destination country; the site often arranges travel and lodging as well.
A country manager coordinates any additional requirements such as cell phone service and airport transportation; case managers attend to all needs that arise while the patient is in the destination country.
Although insurers currently do not make medical travel part of their provider networks, they may in the future, according to Mercer Health & Benefits, a national consultancy group for human resources managers.
Source: Devon Herrick, "Medical Tourism Prompts Price Discussions," Heartland Institute, October 1, 2006.