A recent Deloitte report on medical tourism predicted that outbound medical travel from the US could reach upwards of 1.6 million patients by 2012, with sustainable annual growth of 35 percent. If you are one of the many potential patients seeking high quality, affordable care outside of the US, you should know three things about your provider before boarding the plane: who they are, how and where they practice, and what are their results and outcomes.
The first question, who they are, probes the provider’s education, qualifications, experience and reputation. Most of this information is usually accessible on the doctor’s website and can be verified on accreditation organization websites or professional association resources. Check to see whether the practitioner is board certified by a reputable US or foreign specialty board and if they are a member of the national specialty society or association.
Secondly, ask how and where they practice. For example, plastic surgeons and dentists are likely to practice and operate in private clinics or ambulatory surgery facilities removed from a hospital setting. Some may even own the clinic and they should divulge that information to you. If something goes wrong during a procedure, make sure you understand how and where you would get emergency care, how you would be transported there, and who would pay for it. In addition, unlike more and more hospital facilities that are being accredited by the Joint Commission International, (click for a list of accredited hospitals) the organization responsible for making sure hospitals adhere to acceptable practices and procedures, independent, free-standing facilities frequently are not similarly examined or accredited.
Finally, and perhaps the most difficult information to find, is the outcome and results of a given procedure. Ask ” How many of these operations do you do in a week, a month or a year ?” Also, inquire about the number of cases that result in complications, the need for revision surgery or significant morbidity i.e. something that unexpectedly doesn’t work the way it should after surgery, or postoperative death. Most doctors, including those in the US, will be unable to give you an accurate answer because they don’t keep good records or have an unreliable system to keep track of results. Sometimes the best you can do is to talk to someone who has had a similar procedure.
Getting information about a doctor and his or her results in not easy, wherever they practice. The more information you know, however, the better you can determine whether surgery away from home makes sense.