Marla Dickerson ,
Los Angeles Times |
Improving quality and bargain prices are luring U.S. patients to developing countries for increasingly
When Andy Dijak injured his right knee playing tennis, he wasn't surprised that he needed surgery. "It swelled up like a balloon," said the 50-year-old West Lake resident. The real shocker was the price tag: $12,000 to $15,000 to repair tattered cartilage. Dijak, a creative director for an entertainment company, has no health insurance, so he started shopping for a deal. He found it in the northern Mexico city of Monterrey at Christus Muguerza High Specialty Hospital, owned by Dallas-based Christus Health.
Here, the staff treated him more like a big shot than a bargain hunter. An English-speaking employee picked him up at the airport. Dijak recuperated in a private hospital room with a flat-screen television and a view of the peaks of the Sierra Madre. His surgeon recorded the operation on video and gave Dijak a DVD copy for his peace of mind. Total cost, including airfare: $4,500. "I got better care there than I would have in the United States, unless I were a billionaire," he said. Americans have long been willing to leave the country for bargain face-lifts and cut-rate dentistry. But now 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. Most, like Dijak, are obtaining elective surgeries for ailments that aren't life-threatening. Increasingly, they are seeking treatment for more serious conditions, including heart maladies and cancer.
Last year, 750,000 Americans traveled abroad for care, according to estimates by the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, a Washington-based research center that's part of the consulting firm Deloitte & Touche. Other analysts say the numbers are lower. But hardly anyone disputes that medical care, once a highly local business, is going global like never before. By 2010, Deloitte projects, 6 million consumers a year will venture outside the United States for medical treatment.