Cost and quality don’t always mesh, but these two factors are the most common reasons that people travel abroad for health care. Americans, for example, travel to India, Thailand, Singapore, Costa Rica, and other countries for joint replacement, cosmetic surgery, dental treatments, or heart surgery to take advantage of costs that can be drastically lower than in the United States. Some Americans also seek care outside their home country in order to access what are considered alternative treatments that are not yet approved in the United States.
One 2008 report found that more than 750,000 Americans sought treatment outside the United States in 2007 and projected that number to grow to 6 million by 2010. People in other parts of the world are also leaving their countries for medical care, sometimes coming to the United States. The same report estimated that more than 400,000 non-U.S. residents will seek care in the United States. (Deloitte Center for Health Solutions: Medical Tourism: Consumers in Search of Value: 2008 Survey of Health Care Consumers.
For those coming into the United States for treatment, the deciding factor is not always cost but instead the reputation for high quality care with advanced technology and highly-specialized medical facilities and physicians, as well as the potential for quicker access to services that might not be as readily available in a patient’s country of origin.
Safety and Quality Standards.
The challenges of seeking care in another country are significant and require careful consideration. Although some medical tourism firms tout relaxing destinations and amenities, high quality care and patient safety must always be the top priorities. It is important to remember that despite medical breakthroughs and an ever-expanding knowledge base, providing safe, high quality care is a challenge for each and every health care organization around the world. Health care facilities still struggle to create the systems that achieve effective care, produce the desired results, and reduce the risk of unwanted outcomes.
Because standards of care may vary widely from one health care facility to another and from one country to another, it is important to look for assurances that a health care organization has publicly committed to safe, quality patient care. One of the best known symbols of this commitment is accreditation, a voluntary process that provides a universal standard of credibility.
In the United States, The Joint Commission has been recognized as a driving force in evaluating and promoting safe, high quality care for more than 50 years and is the leader in health care accreditation. An independent, not-for-profit organization, The Joint Commission was founded in 1951 by major medical societies in the United States to standardize the way patient care is measured. Today, The Joint Commission accredits nearly16,000 hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers, outpatient clinics, home care agencies, laboratories, behavioral health facilities, and nursing homes. A Joint Commission-accredited health care facility must constantly strive to improve its performance and reduce risk.