For more than a half-century, the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers has been on a mission “to coordinate an international network of qualified doctors and mental health practitioners committed to providing the highest standards of medical care to travellers.” Italian physician Vincenzo Marcolongo was inspired to create the organization after he assisted a distressed Canadian in Rome. The group provides a growing database of more than 400 clinics in 120 countries that agree to treat any member (free to join; donation much appreciated) for a set fee of $100 per office visit and $170 for a night call.
“We visit the doctors and have close relationships with them,” said IAMAT president Assunta Uffer-Marcolongo, the founder’s wife. “The traveler knows that he will not be overcharged.”
Health-care systems vary tremendously worldwide, as do hospital cultures. Shlim, for one, praises facilities in Thailand, such as Bangkok’s Bumrungrad International Hospital, which has garnered several awards for its quality service. In India, Murthy preferred private hospitals over the government-run options, even though her physician husband worked in a public institution. She found the private venues to be better funded and stocked with more modern equipment. Nonetheless, in certain cases, she said, patients would have to purchase their own supplies — sutures, saline solution and medications, for instance — in advance. Her recommendation: Bring cash and a gofer/friend who can run to the pharmacy for you.
Despite the diversity in systems, some universal tips do apply. Americans can often find familiar care at hospitals affiliated with universities, such as Johns Hopkins, or U.S. health-care centers, such as Harvard Health. Or look for places that cater to expats, business travelers or medical tourists. Kirby suggests contacting the U.S. Embassy for recommendations or asking a hotel concierge working at an international chain.
Of course, no one wishes to interrupt his or her holiday with a hospital visit. But to look on the bright side, sampling a country’s health-care system is a truly immersive experience. Too Pollyannish? How about this: You might have saved some money by falling ill abroad rather than at home.
When my friend Ed suffered a stroke in Mongolia, he paid less than $950 for a three-day hospital stay including a private room, around-the-clock nurses and an MRI. After he returned home, Ed received a bill from an American doctor who had been visiting Ulan Bator and had initially assisted with his care. The fee for the two-hour consultation was hundreds more than the entire hospital portion in Mongolia.
Have your own tale of sickness while traveling abroad? Share it in the comments section of this story here.