Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Let's take a medical tour with Kristin

Kristin Ecklund Gustafson
Despite popular concepts, medical tourism is not a new phenomenon. Americans have traveled, sometimes great distances, for healthcare services for decades. The reasons have varied; rural residents have traditionally traveled due to a lack of available local services. Others, particularly the wealthy, or the elite, have traveled internationally for access to technologies and treatments not available at home. 

Now, due to a combination of factors, including the increasing availability of information due to the internet, escalating and out-of-control healthcare costs, and an aging population have made medical tourism more of a middle-class option. However, as medical tourism has risen in popularity, so have the dangers and pitfalls. Previously, treatments, facilities and doctors were chosen via a fairly small and select network of providers, mainly through the world of mouth. These doctors were located in sophisticated and modern cities in western Europe; Madrid, Paris, Stockholm, or in the elegant, and wealthy cities of Latin America; Buenos Aires, Bogota or Rio de Janeiro. With the explosion of the internet, thousands of websites, clinics and providers from all points of the globe have emerged, to offer a dizzying array of procedures and services to overwhelmed consumers. This has been both a blessing and a curse. While providing people with an increased amount of treatment options, there little control over quality, accuracy of information or patient safety. Many of the companies and providers promoting medical tourism have little to no experience in doing so. Surgeons and other medical providers are often recommended or selected based on advertisements, not medical qualifications. Several guidebooks to medical tourism have been published but unfortunately, these have been written as slick, promotional brochures rather than investigative journalism by qualified medical personnel. These books sell facilities space in their publication for upwards of 20,000 dollars per listing. These are hardly objective, unbiased or consumer-focused publications. 

The need for objective, balanced and independently researched information is acute. Consumers need to be able to find qualified, dedicated and well-trained surgeons operating in safe and clean facilities.  This information should be provided by an impartial and informed source, not an agent or someone else receiving a commission for referrals. 

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