The common question asked about medical tourism is whether or not it's safe. What is patient safety? How does one gauge whether or not policies, procedures and techniques offered in a variety of medical fields are safe? Even more perplexing, how is patient safety defined in different countries?

The Joint Commission Perspective On Patient Safety
The Joint Commission is a hospital and medical facility accreditation organization based in the United States.  The Joint Commission International is similar and focused on providing quality care and safety for medical practices around the world. A facility accredited by the Joint Commission International is one that:

  • Measures up to quality benchmarked standards
  • Employs risk reduction strategies
  • Offers procedures and techniques and treatments in all world regions
  • Is focused on patient safety standards

The Joint Commission International creates International Standards for Hospitals, International Clinical Lab Standards, International Standards For Care Continuum's or providing quality care across multiple settings such as private homes, long-term care, rehabilitation, assisted living and end of life care, as well as International Standards For Medical Transport Organizations.

The Joint Commission International is client focused and provides guidelines regarding patient safety in domestic and foreign destinations. The basic focus of the Joint Commission's Perspectives on Patient Safety is to teach and instruct healthcare organizations how to reduce and prevent errors and to continuously follow standards of quality and efficient patient care.

Creating A Safe Environment
Due to an increase in global healthcare, options and availability, tens of thousands of medical travelers leave their country to seek medical treatment in foreign destinations. In some cases, contributing factors to such the citizens involve affordability while for others it's a matter of availability.

As many as six million Americans are estimated to seek medical attention in international destinations in coming years, and the number of international medical travelers from other countries such as South Africa, Europe, and Canada as well as travelers from countries like Iraq, Nigeria, Turkey and Croatia are seeking available and affordable medical care across their borders. 

Patients traveling across borders need to take the time to research and understand the capabilities and quality of  foreign physicians, surgeons and medical facilities. Quality medical institutions are certified or accredited by domestic accrediting organizations or by international accreditation organizations such as the JCI, WHO, Trent Accreditation Scheme, the Australian ACHSI, or  Quality Health New Zealand, just to name a few.

The International Society for quality in Health Care (ISQua) as well as the USA and Canadian Council on Health Services accreditation also offer certification and accreditations in many global facilities.

What Should Patients Know?
In addition to knowing whether or not a facility or physician is certified or accredited, international medical travelers should also ask a variety of basic questions regarding patient safety and care in any destination.  The American Medical Association recently offered guidelines for medical tourists that includes factors such as:

  • Selecting facilities that have been accredited by recognized international accrediting bodies
  • Follow-up care should be arranged prior to departure to ensure continuity of care
  • International patients should have access to physician licensure, accreditation of facilities, as well as data or information regarding outcomes of procedures or techniques performed by a specific surgeon or hospital
  • Transfer and sharing of patient medical records should coincide with HIPAA guidelines

Seeking international medical care is a personal decision that every individual must make on their own. However, any foreign facility should offer individual rights, management of information, quality leadership, infection control measures, and access to as well as continuity of care, regardless of procedure or destination.

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