Ronald Johnson suggests how people can make informed choices on healthcare


Dr Johnson is a graduate of the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Chicago and is Board Certified in Surgery. He has been in private practice for 30 years in San Diego
Medical travel, or medical tourism, the process of seeking medical care outside the U.S., is a growing trend predominantly being driven by the rising costs of healthcare in the U.S., growing demand for consumer choice and recognition that quality medical care is available internationally.  The Deloitte Center for Health Solutions reports that two in five survey respondents said they would be interested in pursuing treatment abroad if quality was comparable and the savings were 50 percent or more, and they predict the number of Americans traveling for medical care to increase to six million by 2010.  But how can you be assured of the quality of global healthcare?

US guidelines on medical tourism

At the American Medical Association (AMA) June 2008 Annual Meeting medical care outside the U.S. was discussed, resulting in new AMA Guidelines on Medical Tourism.  The AMA guidelines, which support pluralism and patient choice, are intended to inform and advise patients, employers, insurers, and those coordinating international healthcare about how to ensure the quality and safety of patient care internationally.  One recommendation is that patients should only be referred for medical care to institutions that have been accredited by recognized international accrediting bodies, such as the Joint Commission International (JCI).  The JCI is the international branch of the Joint Commission, which accredits all U.S. healthcare facilities and is the recognized world leader in evaluating healthcare quality and patient safety.  The JCI sets over 350 standards of excellence for international hospitals to meet that ensure the quality and safety of patient care, including patient satisfaction and quality outcomes, medical training of doctors and medical staff, nurse to patient ratios, overall hospital cleanliness, and innovation in medical technology and equipment, just to name a few.

Many of these JCI-accredited international hospitals have affiliations with prestigious U.S. medical universities and hospitals, such as Johns Hopkins, Harvard Medical and the Cleveland Clinic.  Many of the doctors practising in the best of these international hospitals are U.S./U.K. or equivalently trained and Board Certified, as well as experts in their specialty.

Other AMA guidelines address follow-up care, legal rights, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) guidelines, and travel risks.

The role of the medical travel facilitator

To help individuals access quality international healthcare, many medical travel “facilitators” have arrived on the scene.  These range from converted travel agents to full-service global healthcare companies.  When evaluating these organizations, it is important for individuals, employers and payors to look for these key components:

  • A full-time Chief Medical Officer and Medical Quality Advisory Board to lead the quality program, set guidelines, evaluate facilities including site visits, and review performance measures and outcomes
  • Meet or exceed  the AMA Guidelines for medical travel
  • A careful evaluation of quality standards and audits of network hospitals in order to be recognized as International Centers of Excellence
  • Surgically-trained Registered Nurses and travel/customer service representatives to guide patients through the entire process from the first phone call to follow-up, which includes scheduling their post-operative appointment back in the U.S. before even leaving the country for surgery.
  • Other components include facilitating medical records transfer, communications with the insurer, U.S. physician, international physician and patient, and scheduling all travel arrangements.
  • Transparency in quality and pricing.
  • Service includes transportation and accommodations for a companion to accompany the patient.
  • Allows employers and employees to share in the significant economic savings of global healthcare

High-quality care is available at many hospitals around the world that are centers of excellence with quality outcomes and standards of service equaling or surpassing those in the U.S. A medical tourism facilitator can help individuals, employers and payors make an informed choice from the range of hospitals promoting their services to overseas patients.



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