Lower costs lure U.S. patients abroad for treatment

by Danielle Dellorto ,  CNN Health.com | 2009-03-27

"I was a walking time bomb. I knew I had to get on that plane if I wanted to be around to see my grandkids."

Sandra Giustina is rolled into surgery to correct her atrial fibrillation at Max Hospital in New Dehli, India.

Sandra Giustina is a 61-year-old uninsured American. For three years she saved her money in hopes of affording heart surgery to correct her atrial fibrillation. "They [U.S. hospitals] told me it would be about $175,000, and there was just no way could I come up with that," Giustina said.

So, with a little digging online, she found several high quality hospitals vying for her business, at a fraction of the U.S. cost. Within a month, she was on a plane from her home in Las Vegas, Nevada, to New Delhi, India. Surgeons at Max Hospital fixed her heart for "under $10,000 total, including travel."

Giustina is just one of millions around the world journeying outside their native land for medical treatment, a phenomenon known as "medical tourism." Experts say the trend in global health care has just begun. Next year alone, an estimated 6 million Americans will travel abroad for surgery, according to a 2008 Deloitte study. "Medical care in countries such as India, Thailand and Singapore can cost as little as 10 percent of the cost of comparable care in the United States," the report found.

Companies such as Los Angeles-based Planet Hospital are creating a niche in the service industry as medical travel planners. One guidebook says that more than 200 have sprung up in the last few years. "We find the best possible surgeons and deliver their service to patients safely, affordably and immediately," said Rudy Rupak, president of Planet Hospital. "No one should have to choose between an operation to save their life or going bankrupt."



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