Medical Travel: Safety First

It is human nature to look for the fastest, easiest, cheapest way to accomplish things, which is why the medical tourism industry is growing increasingly popular. Why spend $30,000 on surgery in your home country when you can travel abroad and cut your costs by half? You have to be careful, however, that you don't jump into the medical travel idea without first thinking it through carefully and considering all of the safety ramifications.

The Importance of Accreditation
If you're going to consider medical tourism, the first step is to compile a list of accredited hospitals that perform the procedure you need. Without accreditation, you have no guarantees that the facility, personnel or equipment will meet the necessary safety standards to ensure your health and well-being. Unfortunately, many of the lesser-developed countries around the globe don't perform medicine to Western standards, so you have to be careful.

Depending on the organization you choose, accreditation is achieved when a hospital completes an evaluation process, which usually takes about a year. Those who are interested in medical tourism need to be familiar with the different types of accreditation so that they can make intelligent decisions. For example, some hospitals are accredited for in-patient care and assisted living, but not for surgery. Depending on the procedure you require, make sure that the hospital you choose is accredited in that area.

What does this mean to someone who is considering medical tourism? Unfortunately, it is impossible to evaluate a hospital or physician based on a few phone calls and a glance at the company Web site. Accreditation organizations inspect every aspect of a hospital's operation to ensure that it meets necessary safety guidelines. Since medical procedures are stressful in and of themselves, relying on their evaluations can help patients feel more secure in seeking medical treatment.

Organizations for Accreditation
The Joint Commission International (JCI) is the primary source of accreditation for international hospitals worldwide. In their quest to "continuously improve the safety and quality of care in the international community", they review hospitals and clinics based on a set of safety standards, which allows you to choose a hospital that won't put you in danger. Medical tourism is growing at such a rapid rate that JCI has three international offices, located in Singapore, Dubai and France, as well as their primary headquarters in Illinois.

The JCI is a subsidiary of the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO), which was founded in 1951 for the purposes of increasing the standards of U.S.-based hospitals and clinics. Its international component, JCI, was founded in 1971 in an effort to broaden their horizons and in response to the increase in medical travel.

Other hospital accreditation organizations include the Trent Accreditation Scheme, which focuses on developing individualized standards of care in the U.K. and Hong Kong; the International Organization for Standardization, which is geared primarily toward hospital management; and the Society for International Healthcare Accreditation, which is intensely involved in communication between hospitals in various countries.

Before you decide on medical tourism as the best way for you to handle the procedure you need, talk with several of the hospitals on your list to get a feel for what they can provide. Any accredited hospital should be willing to speak with you about their admittance procedures, their track record with similar treatment programs, the education and experience of their physicians and their administrative policies.

Furthermore, communication will give you an opportunity to judge your "gut reaction." Did you feel safe and comfortable talking about your medical history? Did the hospital representative answer your questions thoroughly and without argument? Would you feel comfortable putting your health in their hands? These types of questions should be explored before you pursue medical tourism.

You will also want to speak with the physician who will be handling your case. With some procedures, you will work with several different professionals during the course of your treatment, but the surgeon or primary care doctor should be willing to talk to you. Just because a hospital is accredited doesn't mean that the physician is capable of handling your case. For example, where did he or she graduate medical school? And which board certifications does he or she hold?

Once you have a greater understanding of a particular hospital and its personnel, comparison shopping is your best bet. Take notes on your conversations with administrative personnel and physicians, then compare their credentials with those of your local hospitals. Would a doctor closer to home have more experience with the procedure? And if so, how important is experience when determining the safety of a procedure?

Sometimes it helps to discuss your case with a trusted physician at home. Lay out your options, including the notes you took on foreign hospitals, and ask for his or her opinion.

Surrounding Travel
Unfortunately, the safety of a particular hospital and its staff isn't your only concern. You also have to worry about the travel to and from the foreign country, and what you'll do during the recovery period before you can board a plane back home. Many people who choose medical tourism surround the procedure or surgery with a vacation, which will mean booking a hotel room and finding transportation.

Additionally, it is not a good idea to pursue medical travel if you aren't capable of flying overseas safely. If your condition is urgent or if flying might cause your condition to worsen, medical tourism is probably not the best choice for you. Always consider the safety ramifications first before making a decision as big as this one.

Next article: Popular Medical Travel Destinations