Americans traveling abroad for health care

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Instead of 5 miles to the nearest hospital for surgery, jump on a plane and fly hundreds of miles to a foreign medical center and save money.

Dr. DeVon Hale with the University of Utah's International Medical Education program says if you look at numbers worldwide, around 400,000 to over 1 million people are going to a new country to get medical care.

Hale recently returned from meetings with the International Society of Travel Medicine. The group is worried about competition: U.S. health care is pricing itself out of the market, and physicians abroad are loving it.

About 200,000 to 300,000 American patients are traveling abroad each year. Even the Joint Commission of Hospitals, which certifies hospitals in this country, is taking advantage of the trend.

"They have an international branch now that has certified over 300 hospitals worldwide, outside of the U.S., with the same criteria that they use for us," Hale said.

In many cities, insurance companies are looking for places with a good record for quality care that will do the procedure cheaper than a U.S. doctor. According to Hale, "Open heart surgery, bone marrow transplants, organ transplants, infertility clinics; those are all now being offered worldwide."

Caitlin Janeway is preparing for travel to Bolivia and Peru. She doesn't need medical care now but says if she should someday, she wants to have options.

"I mean, I've never had to actually think about that. But if it is really that much cheaper and you get to travel and get your hip replaced, then yes, I would do it," Janeway said.

The University of Utah Travel Clinic does not encourage medical travel. In fact, if asked, Hale says travelers are cautioned about risks.

What about the expertise of the physicians, Hale questions, or infection control in and out of the hospital? Follow up care, he adds, has to take place back home and some physicians in the United States are refusing to give it.

Do your homework, Hale warns. He says moving about seems to be the name of the game!

Hale says while U.S. patients are traveling abroad to save money, Canadians and Brits are going elsewhere because of long waiting lists in their own countries. In poor countries, wealthy people are coming to the United States because the procedure they want is not offered back home.


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Ed Yeates


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