Doing Your Homework

Doing Your Homework

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Prospective medical tourists should first zero in on a surgeon, finding out when the doctor started practicing, where she went to school and how many surgeries she has performed, said Jonathan Edelheit, president of the Medical Tourism Association.

They should also ask for referrals so they can talk to other American patients who have used that doctor. Only then should a prospective patient decide on a hospital, Edelheit said.

Next move? Ask the hospital if the doctor has had any complaints or sanctions, or has committed medical malpractice. Most, if they're working hard to keep business robust, will tell you, he added.

Unfortunately, finding good surgeons is mostly a matter of hit-or-miss poking around on the Internet and making overseas calls. Edelheit says that's why his organization is building a portal where prospective patients can go online and research overseas doctors.

Once you've chosen a surgeon, it's time to dig in on the hospital. Is it accredited? If so, by what body? How stringent is that body? Karen Timmons, president of the Joint Commission International, which accredits 147 overseas hospitals, said that if you've never heard of the body that accredits the hospital, check to see if that body has been accredited by the International Society for Quality in Health Care.

Another option for prospective patients is a facilitator, a small firm that offers to hold one's hand through a medical tourism experience, from helping choose a hospital to booking a flight.

Renee-Marie Stephano, chief operating officer and general counsel for the Medical Tourism Association, said it's beneficial to have such a facilitator on your side if things go badly.

John F.P. Bridges, an assistant professor of health economics at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, disagrees.

"Be very, very careful, because there's a whole heap of vultures on the Internet trying to scam," he warned. "If you are interested in going overseas [for health care], deal with the hospitals directly."

Edelheit says that if you want to use a facilitator, you should find out how long the company has been in business, if it has someone with medical credentials on staff and if it has a relationship with the hospital, which would be a plus. Finally, he said, you should always pay the hospital directly.

The American Medical Association recently adopted guiding principles on medical tourism aimed at the employers, insurance companies and other parties that facilitate medical care abroad. http:// They can be seen at

-- Suz Redfearn

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