15Jan/17

10 Things All Medical Tourists Must Know

Concerned about your safety on your medical trip? You are not alone. Here are the 10 things to know about medical tourism that will surely allow you to feel more comfortable if you took note of them:

1. First world doesn’t always mean first-rate

“The best healthcare is not in the U.S., Canada, or the U.K. The best healthcare is in places like Thailand and Costa Rica”—says Chris Guillebeau in his popular blog post.

You might want to take it from the man who has actually traveled all through the world.

A lot of medical travelers are amazed at the kind of medical and nursing care they get in Asia or Mexico or Costa Rica.

Also, the doctors in those countries treat higher numbers of patients on an average as compared to their first-world counterparts, meaning their skills and experience can be counted upon.

That said, you must always be fully informed about the procedure you are going to undertake and maybe compare to see if there are any differences from what you would expect in your local hospital.
 

2. There are no guarantees

Whether you are in the U.S. or Australia, or S.Korea or India—things can go wrong anywhere.

While looking for a dentist for an affordable dental implant bridge for my mother, I checked through plenty of forums where people complained about problems and pain even after spending $30,000 at their American dentist’s office.

On the other hand, people who spent a third of that amount in for dental implant bridges in Costa Rica reported having no troubles at all.
 

3.You can do something to protect yourself

You have to research well and ask all questions that help you feel comfortable.

UniMed details you on the procedure to help inform you about the risks and potential complications of any procedures you are planning to go for, in a different country.

Besides independent research, to feel safe, you must ask the questions that allow you to trust the doctor you are going to have surgery with.

As a general rule, you must ask the doctor about:

  1. the number of surgeries he has performed (experience is not by number of years, but by number of cases)
  2. what is the prognosis given your personal factors – age, medical status, etc
  3. what to do in case some complication arises
  4. how many days are you recommended to stay in the country after your treatment?

Also make a list (because we always tend to forget) and ask anything that about anything you doubt over—ANSWERS are comforting.

We strictly encourage the patients to not try and book the same doctor outside of our system because you will not be able to review or say anything about your experience, and the doctor has nothing to be held for, if anything unfortunate happens.

Also, doctors on our system are well aware that they have to be honest and ethical with UniMed patients to continue our association and any malpractice can get them delisted.
 

4. They speak your language

Almost all hospitals that regularly work with medical tourists have staff and doctors who can speak in English. You will be able to converse comfortably; don’t expect them to speak perfect English though.

Most of them will arrange for interpreters if you need them to be speaking in other languages.

However, even if there are interpreters I recommend you to go to a place where the doctor understands some part of the very language you speak, if it’s not English.

It is imperative that your doctor understands what you are saying during the surgery.
 

5. Expect different standards but it’s not entirely different

The healthcare quality assessment is standard for organizations like the Joint Commission International (JCI) – so if you are going to a hospital that is accredited by one of these international organizations, know that you will find similar hospital standards.

However, that mostly implies to the facilities provided by the hospitals. The ethical standards and doctors’ practices vary from region to region.

You want to look for a doctor who is aware of the global best practices.
 

6. Doctors are truly global

My dermatologist in India was treating a patient from Australia, and she prescribed the medication and brand names that the patient would be able to find in Australian pharmacies, when she goes back.

If you are looking for say breast implants in Thailand, just look at the options your doctor offers and if they are similar to the ones that are offered in your part of the world.

If they are different, don’t hesitate to ask the doctor about those differences.

A lot of doctors listed here have training or higher education in Europe or USA. Others are part of International associations of their respective specialities so they are constantly updated of the developments in their field.

There are two ways to find out about your chosen doctor’s awareness of international standards:

  1. See if they regularly treat foreign patients (usually they will be able to provide you with reviews or testimonials from foreign patients) – if they do that they are likely to keep themselves very updated
  2. Ask the right questions like you would in a local hospital

 

7. Prescription medicines are different

Expect to find OTC drugs that are much cheaper in the developing world, and you can even buy prescription medicine for lower prices.

Some people stock up on certain medicines that they find way cheaper in Asian countries.

However, certain drugs that are banned in some countries due to health concerns are easily available in others, especially cough syrups.

Before buying any medication, you can check online to know the safety of those drugs according to your country’s guidelines. Many harmless herbal medicines and products are also available in Asian countries.
 

8. You must NOT travel in haste

It is always better to reach your medical destination a day or two before the planned date of surgery so you can go to the hospital, get physical examination/investigations, check out your recuperation place, perhaps find another one if you don’t like it,  and feel comfortable in your surroundings.

Make sure to ask the doctor for pre-surgery instructions – usually you are not allowed to eat or drink 12 hours before going for general anesthesia.

Do NOT plan to travel abroad for surgery if you don’t have enough time to stay in the country for recovery. I cannot stress this enough—do not rush to go back home unless you have healed completely and your doctor has agreed to your return trip.

You do not want to travel thousands of miles back only to find your surgery has resulted in a complication. Besides, flying immediately after surgery can raise the chances of blood clots.

Most procedures require 2-3 weeks but in some cases more time may be required and in others, like LASIK, you may be able to return within a week.

Once again, do NOT plan your medical trip if you don’t have sufficient time.
 

9. Pre-plan your accommodation & travel

Most hospitals will arrange for pick-up from the airport if you inform them in advance. They might also have tie-ups with nearby hospitals, for patients to stay during recuperation, where you can get better prices.

Some dental centers in Mexico offer free stay in a nearby hospital.

Even if you are going to a hospital that has no such tie-ups, it doesn’t’ hurt to ask.

Also, if you don’t like the hotel they send you to, it is perfectly alright to find another one. Just try not to book one too far from the hospital.
 

10.Check the accepted mode of payment

International credit cards are accepted at most big hospitals, but if you decide on one of the awesome dental or eye clinics that are not a part of the big hospitals it is advisable to ask what modes of payments do they accept.

There are places that only accept cash. Also, you must carry some local currency for small purchases.

 

Have you been on a medical trip? How was your experience? What made you feel comfortable or not — can share  that to help other medical tourists?

Please use the form on the right to contact us regarding a treatment you need to go abroad for.
02Jan/17

5 Things to know about Medical Tourism in Thailand

Thailand is among Asia’s top tourist destinations; tourism contributes nearly 10% to the country’s GDP.

World Bank’s report of inbound travelers in Thailand states that over 24 million foreigners visited the country in 2014.

But what does that mean for medical tourism in Thailand?

It certainly means that people consider it a safe and inviting place to visit and possibly, thousands of them are interested in Thailand’s affordable medical care bundled with its warm hospitality.

But the medical tourism industry is still embryonic and there is no tangible data thus far.

The Kasikorn Reseach Centre (KResearch), which works closely with Thailand’s Ministry of Health, reports that during the year of 2015, 2.8 million medical tourists were treated at Thailand hospitals.

However, a report in the International Medical Travel Journal (IMTJ) questions those numbers as it publishes a much lower figure (about 40% of the above) given by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT).

Given the fact that IMJT spells Kasikorn as Kasicom, and several other websites on the internet copy the incorrect and publish as it is, the validity of these reports remains questionable.   

Even though the numbers of medical tourists cannot be firmly stated yet, foreigners planning a medical vacation in Thailand can rely on other, more important specifics.

The below facts and information should help you make an informed decision:

 

1.     Hospitals & Recovery Centers in Thailand

39 Hospitals in Thailand have been accredited by the US Joint Commission International (JCI), which is considered the gold standard in global healthcare.

The JCI tests facilities for the quality of healthcare standards, risk reduction policies, patients’ safety, etc. and has a rather stringent screening process.

There might be clinics/hospitals that offer quality medical services for lower prices, but as an outsider a JCI-accredited facility is your safer bet.

Bangkok’s Bumrungrad International Hospital was Asia’s first to win JCI accreditation and has since set the tempo for quality and quantity of contemporary international healthcare throughout Asia.

The hospital has a million-square-foot complex in downtown Bangkok and employs over a thousand doctors in possibly every imaginable medical specialty. 

The venerated Bumrungrad however, is the most expensive of Thailand’s top hospitals, which could make it relatively less popular with medical tourists who are primarily traveling for cost benefit.

Luckily, there is competition and Thailand has a number of hospitals including the Bangkok International Hospital, Bangkok Hospital Phuket, Samitivej Sukhumvit Hospital, Bangkok General Hospital, Yanhee International Hospital, among others that are vying for attention of foreign patients and have accordingly advanced over the years.

When it comes to recuperating, Thailand’s world-renown spas and wellness resort, many of which are set in splendid coastal surroundings, make it even more appealing to the medical tourist.

2.     Thai Doctors

Thais are known for their warmth and hospitality but as a patient, I’d be more interested in the skills and experience of my doctor.

More than 500 doctors in the small country are certified by the American Board of Medical Specialties, which is definitely reassuring, as are most of the testimonials from patients who have been treated there.

All countries have different systems of medical education but certifications of expertise from international organizations help establish the fact that the doctor is aware of the international standards.

 

3.     Visa for Medical Tourists in Thailand

People from 19 countries in Asia and Europe can get a Thailand visa on arrival.

Thailand’s forthcoming VISA EXEMPTION RULE allows tourists from 52 countries to enter without a visa and stay for 30 days, if they are entering the country via an international airport. 

However, tourists entering Thailand for medical purposes must obtain a non-immigrant Visa (of category ‘O’), which requires proof that they’re receiving treatment from a licensed medical facility and gives then 90 days of stay pass in Thailand.

You can contact us via the form on the right for planning your medical trip to Thailand and getting the right kind of Visa.

Starting early 2013 medical tourists from GCC countries including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE are allowed enter Thailand for 90 days without visa.

 

4.     Communication in Thailand

English is not widely spoken, especially as you move farther away from the big cities. But Thailand is a tourist country and you can expect passable English at major tourist places—now including hospitals—and resort centers.

If, during your recuperative phase, you choose to visit any of Thailand’s gorgeous islands—Ko Samet, Ko Samui, Ko Phangan, Ko Tarutao, Ko Chang, Ko Tao, Ko Phi Phi—you will find English-speaking staff in most big resorts but when you step outside to indulge in local eateries and markets, do not expect English.

English in Thailand is not comparable to what you can expect in countries like India, where English arrived as a result of British colonization and continued to stay in the entire education system, including medical schools.

But the Thai are generally helpful, courteous people, who make an effort to help you with language as far as they can. And if you do find yourself in a place where they do not speak English, the following phrases may come in handy:

  • Hello (and goodbye) – sah-wah-dee-kah
  • Thank you – kope-koon-kah
  • I’m sorry – kore-TOH-nah-kah
  • How much is it? – toh-rye-kah
  • How are you? – sah-bye-dee-mye-kah
  • Good work! – geng mahk
  • Delicious – ah-roi
  • No problem/that’s ok/it doesn’t matter – Mye-pen-rye
  • I like… Chop…
  • I don’t like… Mye-chop…
  • I want to go to.. Yaak pai Krab/Ka..

 

I believe as Thailand caters to a higher number of tourists every year, it is trying hard to make communication easy.

Thailand has already realized the importance of English, and even as I write this, there are hundreds of Thai students taking English lessons in India.

 

5.     Most sought medical treatments in Thailand

Surrogacy and sex-change in Thailand might get the most media attention, but large numbers of medical tourists here also seek dental implants, cosmetic surgery, orthopedic treatments, cardiac surgery, and IVF/reproductive treatments.

Commercial surrogacy in Thailand for foreigners has been banned since February 2015, when an Australian couple abandoned their boy born with Down’s syndrome but took home his healthy twin sister.

Other procedures continue to grow in popularity amongst foreign tourists.

Conclusion

Thailand is among the places that provide the best value for money as it allows for savings of 40-70 percent on most medical procedures, particularly for people from first-world countries like the USA, UK, Japan, and EU.  

The Asian financial crisis in the late 90s was hard on Thailand, which is when the government and business leaders decided to capitalize on the country’s first-rate medical infrastructure to attract foreign patients.

Over time, Thailand has recovered from the days of Baht crash and has built a worthy medical tourism destination. Its tourist count is growing every year, and as for the numbers of medical tourists, I will post as I find data that is more reliable.

25Dec/16

5 Things to know about Medical Tourism in Malaysia

Medical tourism in Malaysia generated around $220 million in revenue in 2015, claims the Health Ministry of the country.

The government is trying everything to woo medical tourists and has even invested in a special agency dedicated to healthcare travel in Malaysia. For 2016, they are expecting medical tourism to generate $320 million in revenue.

According to the World Bank’s report of International Tourism, Malaysia was visited by over 27 million foreigners in 2015, making it the 12th most popular tourist destination in the world.

So it is popular amongst tourists, but can you trust Malaysia’s healthcare system? I tried to find out:

 

1.     Where do most medical tourists in Malaysia come from?

Malaysia gets most of its medical tourists from Indonesia, where the healthcare infrastructure is not as advanced.

People also travel from other neighboring Asian countries—China, Hong Kong, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Philippines, and also a small fraction from India, Singapore, and Thailand, which are actually its biggest competitors in medical tourism.

Being a moderate Muslim country, Malaysia offers great cultural compatibility for patients from the Middle East.

People from America, Australia, the UK, and EU also come to Malaysia, but going by this report in World Health Summit, they form less than 10% of the total so far.

Malaysia is now mostly trying to woo patients from Japan and New Zealand.

Although it has a significant cost-advantage over its costlier but more affluent neighbor Singapore, Malaysia is competing in medical tourism with Thailand and India.

However, besides the obvious cost benefit, a major advantage for Western medical tourists in Malaysia is its largely English-speaking medical community because of which more patients from the EU, Australia, and North America are starting to trace the South-Asian country on the medical travel map.

 

2.     Standards of healthcare in Malaysia

American publication International Living ranked Malaysia’s medical care to be the the 3rd most favorable out of 24 countries in its 2014 Global Retirement Index.

The publication notes that healthcare costs in Malaysia are extremely low and that you can pay out of pocket for many standard procedures. For $9 you can get a dental check-up and for $16 a regular doctor’s visit.

“The majority of dentists are U.S. or UK trained and the staff are friendly and professional,” says the magazine. “The facilities are modern and similar to what you are used to in the U.S. Prescriptions cost a fraction of the cost in the U.S. and the pharmacists are well-trained and informed.”

The Malaysian government is very committed to the development of its healthcare sector and to its principles of universal access to high-quality healthcare.

All private medical facilities in Malaysia are required to be licensed under the Private Healthcare Facilities and Services Act 1998. The Ministry of Health has established certain standards and regulations for quality compliance and it closely monitors all the licensed hospitals.

The government’s investment tax allowance also encourages the hospitals to invest in developing technology-intensive private health care facilities that can attract medical tourists.

Eight hospitals in Malaysia are now also accredited by the US-based Joint Commission International (JCI), which is considered the gold standard in international healthcare.

Despite everything, the most important thing ever is to check the credentials of the doctor who is going to operate upon you.

 

3.     Malaysian medical tourism focus cities

The squeaky-clean, ever-evolving Kaula Lampur with an abundance of tourist attractions is the most visited by medical tourists but the government is aiming for expansion beyond the capital as part of its current five-year development blueprint, the 11th Malaysia Plan, to run from 2016 to 2020.

They are investing in development of three health care hubs in particular—Penang, Malacca and Johor Bahur.

Some of the hospitals in the above places have entire wings dedicated to serving medical tourists and they have arrangements for interpreters in 22 languages including Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, and Russian.

The Malaysian doctors I talked to, all spoke impeccable English.

Malaysia was British colony until 1957 and has naturally imbibed Western culture, which adds to its appeal for Western tourists. English is compulsory in all schools, and it spoken universally and comfortably.

4.     Recuperation and wellness tourism in Malaysia

In a bid to raise its profile as a medical tourism destination and to woo more foreigners, Malaysia wants to tap the international interest in wellness tourism.

“We now know that wellness is a growing sector, especially for countries where the people have the spending capacity,” Sherene Azli, CEO of the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council, told the Oxford Business Group earlier in 2016. “They are very much interested in looking at prevention, simple things like detoxification, or alternatives like traditional complementary medicine.”

Post-operative care and recuperation is another focus for Malaysia, where it has an edge over the West.

When you think that you can add a fortnight of rest and recuperation after being discharged from the hospital, at a luxury 5-star resort on the exotic island of Langkawi, and still save thousands—the appeal is obvious.

Malaysia is attempting to create what it calls a “holistic health care ecosystem.”

 

5.     Growth prospects

Malaysia may not be Asia’a most affordable medical destination, but it does have an edge over India for being more tourist-friendly and over Thailand for its English-speaking doctors and staff.

Malaysia may need better human resources and more affordable health packages if it wants to establish itself as the medical tourism destination of choice, especially for patients outside close neighborhood.

09Dec/16

8 Things to know about medical tourism in India

When I started researching about medical tourism in India, I realized it is a buzzword that has too much written about it without any concrete facts. Medical travel is still a nascent industry with very little data to draw conclusions from.

That could certainly be a concern for the discerning medical tourist, but below are some interesting revelations that came from my research and interaction with patients and hospitals:

 

1.     Where do medical tourists in India come from?

The low cost of medical treatments in India is a major draw for medical tourists, but a vast number of medical tourists here are not those driven by cost but those that are come to avail of the first-rate medical facilities, which are not available in their local healthcare systems.

According to a 2015 report by the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII), Bangladeshis and Afghans make the largest number of medical tourists in India because of the poor medical infrastructure in their countries and also perhaps, because of their geographical proximity to India.

Africans—specifically form Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya, Sudan, Mauritius, Egypt, and South Africa—largely seek healthcare in India for lack of qualified doctors locally.

Even though India exports billions worth of pharmaceutical supplies to African countries every year, the healthcare facilities there are not adequate.

Overburdened healthcare systems in Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) also drive thousands of medical tourists to India, mostly those seeking emergency care for which they are made to wait in their local hospitals.

People from the Middle East, particularly the Persian Gulf countries, Americans, Australians, the British, and Europeans travel to India mostly for the cost benefit on elective medical treatments.

Also important to mention here are Indian expats all over the world, who routinely come home for medical treatments and surgeries.

 

2.     Why do people prefer Indian doctors?

Indians are everywhere. People know of their ways. They are well understood and most patients from abroad feel a level of ease with Indian doctors much more than they would with doctors of any other country.

“Even back home I was going to be treated by an Indian doctor; why not travel and save thousands,” says a balding man from the U.K., who was in India for hair transplant and dental implants.

India and China are the two countries with the oldest healthcare systems in the world, and these are also the two countries that contribute the highest number of doctors to the world’s pool even today.

But I have been to China, and language is a problem.

India’s medical education on the other hand, is all in English. It is highly competitive and only the very best make it to medical schools.

More importantly, Indian doctors treat a much larger volume of patients as compared to their Western counterparts, which means they are more experienced and can be relied upon.

3.     Is it safe?

Many patients—specifically those from the West—have their concerns about the safety of medical treatments in India.

I cannot help but point out this unfortunate case where this Indian girl was refused cosmetic surgery in India because the doctors did not consider her a suitable candidate. She went to the United States, where the doctors performed the surgery she requested, only to result in death.

Surgeries—even as simple as a mere dental extraction—always carry a risk. If things can go wrong in India, they can go wrong in America, or just anywhere else in the world.

The safest option is to never undergo a surgery if it can be avoided. But if you think undergoing a surgery will significantly improve the quality of your life, then your best bet is to look for a competent, experienced doctor, who feels right.

 

4.     Will I be comfortable?

India is the most diverse country in the world—thousands of languages, cultures, foods, and ways of living have thrived for hundreds of years in the sub-continent, which is probably why it seems hospitable to people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Such diversity allows foreigners to merge easily and not feel like outsiders. It may not be so important when you are traveling for fun, but that sense of belonging is a huge plus when you are trying to trust doctors and nurses in another part of the world with your life.

 

5.     Hospital standards and nursing care in India

The airport may look too crowded, the traffic may drive you crazy, but once you reach the destination hospital, you will likely heave a sigh of relief provided you have chosen the right facility.

The US-based Joint Commission International has a stringent process for accreditation of hospitals—only about 21 hospitals in India are JCI accredited so far, giving an indication of the standards of care you can expect and making these facilities more trustworthy.

Besides, the nurse-patient ratio in India is higher than most other parts of the world and patients easily feel cared-for, unlike in some parts of the world, where they want you to leave the hospital as soon as possible.

 

6.     Hospital food in India

If you like Indian food, you will have it easy. Most big hospitals also serve decent continental food and many of them have in-campus cafes. Although they do not have exhaustive menus, you should be able to find a decent sandwich, salad, and coffee.

As a patient you can only eat the food provided from the hospital canteen, as suggested by the hospital nutritionist.

Non-vegetarian food might not be easily available inside the hospital premises.

Once you are discharged, you will find a wide array of options. Do not be tempted by street food—stick to the food served by your hotel or international fast food chains, which are aplenty in India.

 

7.     What languages do they speak?

English and Hindi are the most widely spoken languages and if you are comfortable with either of them, you will have it easy with the doctors and nurses.

English arrived in India a result of British colonization and has since been rooted in the country’s education system, including all its medical colleges. English is widely spoken amongst doctors and staff of all hospitals.

Considering the burgeoning numbers of medical tourists, many hospitals have started offering the services of language interpreters.

 

8.     Visa for medical tourists in India

Foreigners seeking medical treatment in India can apply for a medical visa or M-visa. Up to two attendants, who are blood relatives, are allowed to travel with you. They will be given the medical attendant visa. 

Besides the passport, photographs, visa application and fee, you will need to provide an invitation on the letter head of the hospital that you have selected for treatment. Also, fill up and submit this medical visa undertaking.

More information regarding medical visa fees for different foreign nationals is available here.

 

Conclusion

Despite all concerns, thousands of people travel to India for medical care and return satisfied.

A white paper released by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) in 2015 pegged the number of medical tourists in India at 270,000 for the year of 2014, which was a growth of over 17% as compared to the previous year.

As the government realizes the concerns of people travelling here and organizations like ours try to make the process safer and more transparent, medical tourism in India should grow and in process become easy, transparent, and more dependable.