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Los Angeles Times Examines Medical Tourism

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

The Los Angeles Times on Sunday published two articles examining medical tourism. Summaries appear below.

* Health care globalization: The Los Angeles Times on Sunday examined how "the availability of top-notch medical services at low cost is enticing a growing number of U.S. patients to developing nations for more sophisticated procedures" and treatment for "more serious conditions," such as heart problems and cancer. According to the Times, the "idea of jetting off" to a foreign country for medical treatment "might strike some as a radical way to save money," but advocates say it is a "logical outgrowth of the globalization that's reshaping" the health care industry. A recent Deloitte Center for Health Solutions study found that about 750,000 U.S. patients traveled abroad for medical procedures in 2007, and by 2010, about six million U.S. patients are expected to travel abroad for medical treatments annually.

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The Joint Commission International, which accredits health systems and hospitals abroad, has certified about 200 hospitals worldwide. Currently, the "vast majority of U.S. medical travelers are cash-paying patients," but "analysts say that's changing fast as insurance companies and employers add foreign providers to their networks to slow runaway costs," the Times reports. Experts cite several reasons for the growth in medical tourism, such as lower earnings by physicians abroad, cheaper standards of living in many countries, government-managed health care systems that help private hospitals keep expenses low by absorbing the cost of treating uninsured patients, and lower medical malpractice insurance costs (Dickerson [1], Los Angeles Times, 11/2).

* Experimental treatments: The Times also examined how although "most Americans who leave home for health care are searching for a bargain, others are scouring the globe for leading-edge therapies or experimental treatments," such as stem cell treatment. According to the Times, "Critics warn of the potential for quackery and exploitation," but Rudy Rupak, founder of the medical travel company Planet Hospital, said that the globalization of health care has made it possible for people to track the records of foreign doctors and hospitals. The Times profiled a 62-year-old woman, who in 2006 travelled to India for hip-resurfacing. FDA had approved a device for the procedure a few months earlier, but the woman said she did not want an inexperienced physician performing the procedure (Dickerson [2], Los Angeles Times, 11/2).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, and sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. © 2007 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.