Medical tourism — traveling outside one's home country for treatment — is on the rise. When stem cell therapy was determined to be the best option for Amy Scher's medical condition, remaining in the United States for treatment was out of the question. After much research and consulting with her physicians, Scher decided to head to India.
Here's what she had to say about her lessons learned, and some advice from other travelers.
Logistics: In Scher's experience, the best way to communicate with doctors internationally is still a fax machine. The reliability of voicemail and e-mail depends on a doctor's schedule, which may not include time to check messages. With a fax, a doctor simply makes notes on the paper and hands it to the receptionist to fax you back. Even many stateside doctors prefer to communicate with patients through fax rather than e-mail. Scher handles fax communications on the road via Efax (www.efax.com), which allows her to send and receive faxes from her e-mail account.
Budget: When managing day-to-day expenses, Scher recommends asking locals about standard costs for taxis and other transportation services. This savvy process creates a reliable benchmark for prices and a guard against rip-offs. She also prefers removing larger amounts of cash at ATMs to avoid individual fees for smaller withdrawals. Scher speaks from experience. During her first international trip, she paid $15 per day in bank fees due to repeat cash withdrawals.
Research: Cheryl MacDonald and Lisa Chavis of What Boundaries Travel recommend selecting your international hospital through Joint Commission International (www.jointcommissioninternational.org), which provides independent accreditation for healthcare facilities around the world. Chavis and MacDonald also advise checking with your insurance company to review international coverage. Providers are starting to say yes, particularly when accredited facilities offer the same treatment for less money.
Familiarity: Medical tourism can work well when you are familiar with the destination city or have contacts in that country. For instance, from South Florida, a friend who was born in Argentina frequently travels back to her birth country for medical and dental treatments. She paid about $3,000 in Argentina for dental procedures that would have cost about $10,000 in the U.S. Additionally, she spent $400 for a comprehensive physical, which included two appointments, blood work and a five-page report. Her secret? She uses a friend-and-family network to track down the best doctors, affordable housing and delicious restaurants.