Medical tourism's popularity on the rise

by Chris Taylor , site | 2007-06-22

When David Woodman announced he was going to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, for major dental work, his son Josef thought his dad had lost his mind. He had visions of untrained dentists burrowing into his father's mouth, clutching fistfuls of rusty needles.

So the younger Woodman tagged along, to make sure his father would not fall victim to foreign quackery. "Instead of what I feared, he got a board-trained dentist in a great clinic, with state-of-the-art instruments and panoramic X-rays, " says Woodman, who was so impressed he ended up researching and writing the new book Patients Beyond Borders on the phenomenon of medical tourism. "And he saved $11,000 on a mouthful of teeth. I came away with a different perspective. "

Woodman's father is not alone in looking abroad for a medical overhaul. After all, if the American healthcare system is not completely broken, it is certainly dysfunctional: 47m people have no health coverage, and 130m have no dental insurance. As baby boomers age into more medical problems with spotty coverage, and would prefer not to deplete their retirement savings, they are looking at all available options.

Enter countries such as India, Thailand, Mexico, Costa Rica, Malaysia and Singapore that cater to the maladies of well-heeled foreigners. In fact about 150,000 Americans a year leave the US to have medical work done and the industry is growing by about 15-20 per cent annually. The quality of care in top hospitals is said to beat most American hospitals, while providing savings of 30-80 per cent. In fact, in 10-15 years, "the best offshore hospitals will routinely be included in networks offered to insured Americans ", predicts Arnold Milstein, chief physician for the consulting firm Mercer Health & Benefits.

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