Should I Use a Medical Travel Agent?

If you think that medical tourism might be a viable option for the medical procedure you need, you'll want to look at your options for planning the trip, from selecting a hospital to booking your flight. If your condition limits the amount of effort you can put into organizing your schedule, or if you feel confused or lost about the tasks in front of you, it might be best to hire a medical travel agent for assistance.

What Does a Medical Travel Agent Do?
Medical travel agents go by many different names, but they all fill essentially the same roles. The level of their involvement will depend on what you need, and many medical travel agents offer packages so you can decide the tasks for which you require the most assistance. For example, you might want to plan the medical side of things yourself, but use a medical travel agent to handle the flight, hotel, transportation and other matters.

However, a medical travel agent can also take care of every facet of medical tourism, from research to booking to execution, without your having to lift a finger. In some cases, this is beneficial for the patient because a professional in the industry can often elicit faster results and more accurate information. Since they work in the medical tourism industry full time, they know things about various countries, hospitals and physicians that your average lay person does not.

Medical travel agents also perform other specialized services, depending on how much money you want to spend and how much help you need. For example, some agencies will send a representative to greet you at the airport when you land, and will assign a representative to walk you through every step of the procedure. This is particularly beneficial if you don't know the language in the country you're visiting because the agent can translate for you when you make arrangements.

Furthermore, medical travel agents will sometimes act as personal assistants while you are traveling abroad for medical tourism. They might arrange your hotel, get you settled in, order you room service, rent you a car or even provide you with a cell phone so that you can keep in touch with loved ones back home. This can be extremely helpful for someone who has never traveled internationally before, or for someone who feels insecure or nervous.

Should You Work with a Medical Travel Agent?
The answer to this question really depends on your own personal situation, but despite the benefits listed above, an agent may not be an asset in some situations. For example, there have been complaints filed in the past about agents who push particular doctors or hospitals to their clients because they receive monetary incentives. Whenever you work with a third party, it is hard to be sure that he or she has your best interests in mind.

Furthermore, you'll pay more for the entire trip when you use a medical travel agent because he or she receives a fee. In some cases, you might not know the actual total cost until after your medical tourism is completed, in which case the agent can tack on as many "extras" as he or she wishes. It is important to get the entire fee schedule up front, before you sign any paperwork, to avoid misunderstandings in the future.

Of course, if you have a friend or family member who is willing to help you, it might not be necessary to hire an agent at all. Sometimes the only role an agent fills is that of communicator, in which case your relative or friend can handle all of the phone calls and e-mails necessary to plan the trip. If you have medical travel insurance, a companion might be covered in the cost so that he or she can actually accompany you overseas.

How Should You Choose a Medical Travel Agent?
If you think that it is in your best interests to use a medical travel agent, the selection process should be undertaken with care. The last thing you want is to hire an incompetent agent who is only concerned about the income you're generating. You want to make sure that everything is covered before you leave the country.

A referral is frequently the best way to choose a medical travel agent, particularly if the referral comes from a physician or trusted friend. If you ask around, you'll be surprised at the number of people who have participated in medical tourism and medical vacations, so don't hesitate to visit message boards and to ask friends of friends for their advice. This way, you know someone who has used the agent's services successfully.

If you can't get a referral, compile a list of five to seven medical travel agents and interview them each separately. Ask for literature on their company, such as fee schedules and brochures, and make sure you're clear on the level of service they are prepared to provide. Ask whether or not they will communicate with the hospital or physician overseas, and how they calculate your final balance once services are rendered. Some agents will require you to pay everything in advance, while others will take a partial payment up front, with the rest owed when your trip is complete.

And finally, ask your selection of travel agents whether they specialize in a particular country or area of the world, and whether or not they are comfortable branching out of their typical zone. Once you have all of this information, you can choose a medical travel agent based on the cost and services provided.

Next article: Comparing Medical Treatment Costs Overseas Versus at Home