By Dr. Eva Mor

"medical treatment"For some time now many Americans have been driven by the high cost of medical insurance and deficiencies in coverage to seek medical treatment abroad, in countries such as Thailand, India, Costa Rica, Brazil, South Africa, Romania, Hungary and other eastern European countries. More than a half million Americans chose to receive medical care overseas last year alone. Many medical care facilities abroad now market specific surgical procedures — such as open heart surgery, joint replacement surgery, cosmetic surgery, back surgery and dental implants — to the American public, frequently including swanky accommodation in the fees. This overseas medical care is often provided by staffs that are fluent in English, with many of the doctors having been educated or trained in their specialties in the United States.  In most cases these procedures cost less than 50 percent of what they would run in the United States.

These international medical providers of specific treatments are usually well-organized and staffed with representatives based in the United States. Clients who choose to be treated abroad are often provided with help making traveling arrangements, booking hotels for recuperation stays, organizing pickup from the airport and transportation for their return home.

There are people that will highly recommend going overseas for medical treatment based on their personal experience. Still my recommendation would be to carefully research individual hospitals and clinics, before setting out to put your life and health in their hands. Check for accreditation with the International Joint Commission, or the World Health Organization (WHO), but even if the places check out with these agencies, you need to research the institutions’ background, accreditations and personnel qualifications with medical associations and on the Internet. Your personal doctor should also be included in the decision-making process.  Some private insurance companies will pay for some out-of-country medical treatment — and in most cases it is a cheaper alternative than to pay for the same procedure done in the U.S. Again, you should check with your own insurance company to see if they will cover that treatment. Even with all the cost of traveling and the expense of hotels, you may still come spend less than you would on the co-pay here.

There are drawbacks, however, to choosing overseas care. One of the considerations you must make is, upon return, who is going to provide you with follow-up care? That is the most important reason why your personal doctor should be part of the decision to seek medical care abroad.  If at all possible, the doctor performing the medical procedure should communicate with your doctor at home. Another drawback is that in case complications arise from the procedure due to negligence or error on the part of the staff, you would have limited, if any, legal recourse. Being alone in a strange country, you are totally dependent on people that you do not know. Suppose you arrive at your destination after paying for all or part of the procedure, and you discover that the facility or the professional staff are not what you where promised before you arrived? You would have a hard time recouping your payment at the very least. You need also to know that most foreign hospitals and clinics do not carry malpractice insurance.

If you do decide to go the international route for medical care, you should consider the following to guide you and help you to plan your trip:

1.) Seek advice from your private physician. He or she may be knowledgeable on the subject, and may advise you directly or at least refer you to sources that may help you to become better informed and prepared to make your decision.  Seek advice from specialists in the United States about the procedure and where to get the best and most affordable care.

The more information regarding the specific medical treatment you need you have, the safer you will be. The Internet is a good source for information.

2.) You should ask the following questions before agreeing to undergo a procedure: How many similar does that facility does a year? What is their rate of success?  If an implant is to be used, what kind it is, what’s the implant’s safety record, and is it on par with implants used in the United States?

3.) Find out if you need to make arrangements through a health travel agency. Those travel agencies specialize in finding destination facilities that match your needs, but you should remember that some agencies represent specific medical institutions and their recommendations may be biased.

4.) Make sure you know all the costs involved, and get the bill and contract in writing. Financial arrangements should be clear, and mode of payment should be in writing and clearly understood to minimize the possibility of hidden costs.

5.) Bring all back all relevant medical documents – including MRI’s, CT scan or X-rays films, test reports and records — for your doctor to review.

6.) Bring a family member or a friend with you to advocate for you in case of need, especially if the procedure you are having done renders you unable to make decisions for yourself.

7.) Check with your insurance if they will pay either fully or partially for the procedure. Again, have the insurance company’s commitment in writing. This will eliminate misunderstandings when the time comes for reimbursements.

Hopefully the trend of skyrocketing medical care costs in this country will bottom and out and eliminate the need to seek help outside the borders of the United States. But until it does, overseas treatment may be an option – as long as you make sure you are well-protected from dangers to your health and your wallet.

Dr. Eva Mor is the Author –“Making the Golden Years Golden” For more info-