Physicians are accompanying their clientele to vacation homes and luxe spa recovery centers. Standards and accreditation are an international effort.
The rich and famous have been taking discrete trips out of the country for years to partake of nip / tuck surgeries, rehab, and other medical endeavors. Now the average American can enjoy an international medical getaway, and take along the whole family for less than the $ 40,000 price tag of one knee surgery in America.
The US has been listed as number 37 by the World Health Organization in Healthcare and one million people traveled outside of the US for medical related services in 2008. A medical retreat at a tropical "luxe" spa seems to be sounding better and better to more people.
Need Operation – Will Travel
Medical tourism, coined as such more recently, has been around since the Romans traveled to heal themselves in mystic locales. In modern terms, top services traveled for are;
o Plastic and reconstructive surgery
o Cosmetic and general dentistry
o Bariactric medicine
o Addiction treatments
o General surgeries
o Health and wellness
If you're are already one of the one million travelers, or considering adding to those numbers, you'll want to know what this all means.
Physicians worldwide join their clients on planes, in foreign hospital rooms and at 5 star spa recovery centers that resemble deluxe hotels. Their alliance with international countries, allows them profitability and exotic surroundings. Some may even be attracted by relaxed laws for more experimental procedures such as stem cell research innovations not yet approved in the US
Today providers such as Johns Hopkins, The Mayo Clinic, and Harvard (to name a few) boast overseas facilities. According to BusinessWeek, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of South Carolina also signed strategic alliances with seven overseas hospitals in 2008.
Your doctor may already be booking appointments in Guatemala, Thailand, Costa Rica or the Philippines. Just ask. Thailand for example, reported 1.5 million people for medical tourism in 2007. Physicians from around the world are registered to practice there. The reach is global and so is the responsibility.
My recent trip to Costa Rica on medical tourism included meetings with doctors, spas, government officials and encouraging a call to action for accreditation in medical spa and spa related centers. Costa Rica hosted its first Medical Tourism Congress last year, and is adapting quickly to be a leader in the industry.
Flashy ad's, incentives, and medical tourism "companion packages" bring a lot of attention to foreign medical institutions and their spa and leisure counterparts. Medical tourism can bring, economic growth, prestige, international alliances, and good will. It also brings with it the big question of medical standards and medical spa accreditation. How will the exodus of foreign patients be cared for? The growth also stirs up some stark contrasts with high expenditures to attract medical tourists with glittering centers, and airport improvements compared with the lower public health care of its national people. For the sake of this article let's stick with the first question. Standards.
Patient Trust and Loyalty
A national call to action backed by the government interested in the accreditation is a great starting foundation and was the topic of my meeting with Massimo Manzi, the Chief of Staff for the Ministry of Competitiveness in Costa Rica. Working closely with the International Tourism Board we discussed the growth expectations in medical tourism and the need for accreditation standards for spa / medical spas.
International standards are demanded to effectively blend the cross over with increasing medical tourism and their partnered spa recovery centers. The spa has become the alluring softer side of medical tourism, and a huge part of its growth. The need, particularly in Costa Rica is in creating a strong local incentive, bringing in partnerships, and forming associations. Such as the Costa Rican Spa and Wellness Association, expected to launch this year. After all, the goal here is competitiveness, and ensuring the confidence of potential clients.
With most countries using their own methodology to ensure standards, where is the unification, and how far does accreditation go on a global level?
According to the Medical Tourism Association, their "Quality of Care" program is working towards this and global medical tourism standards. "This project should help the growth of medical tourism and help patients to feel more comfortable and confident when going overseas for surgery … our mission to provide" transparency "as to quality of care data in the Medical Tourism / Global Health care world. " Medical Tourism Association Worldwide, major hospitals that provide these surgeries are already accredited by JCI, Joint Commission International, including CIMA and Clinica Biblica in Costa Rica's capital of San Jose. JCI ensures hospitals are up to standard or shut down. When it comes to accreditation of spas we are committed to providing our expertise on spa quality and driving the national call for action in Costa Rica. Spa standards, especially medically related, also need to be held to a high level of responsibility, or shut down.
Feedback of Professionals
We spoke with Day Spa Association Founder, Hannelore Leavy, on the subject and her interest in working with various countries following the guidelines of the DSA, Day Spa Association or the IMSA, International Medical Spa Association. According to Hannelore "These guidelines are the basis of our accreditation programs, which can be modified to the local laws of each country governing regulatory bodies." The DSA mission statement includes "… the continuous elevation of professionalism and quality driven services …" And the IMSA mission statement "… continuous elevation of a practical but strict code of ethics based upon the highest standards of care and regulated peer review. "
Continuous elevation is a good way to promote growth in the industry, and a key differentiator that we will work towards in this case.
Statistics from the Costa Rica Tourist Board, show approximately 250 operations relating to health and cosmetic surgery being carried out each month in Costa Rican hospitals. Ninety percent of these are performed on foreigners. This is no surprise when you see the cost difference.
Tummy tuck: US $ 10,000 CR $ 4,500
Facelift: US $ 12,000 CR $ 4,700
With several major hospitals and over 500 spa facilities in Costa Rica, you'll have your choice of where to go. Hopefully one accredited by JCI and an international association specializing in spa standards. In this case follow up on accreditation from the Costa Rica Spa and Wellness Association, or the DSA / IMSA as worldwide partners.
It does not matter if clients are prompted by obligatory medical issues or compulsory desires, health tourism is enjoying a boom. That means more need for strict standards, and stiff competition. Competition prompts strategy. Strategy, creativity. Creativity, the possibility of cutting corners. Especially when underdeveloped countries may depend heavily on tourism numbers, and medical tourism for economic growth.
There are many associations dedicating themselves to being the voice of this industry, including the IMSA, Medical Tourism Association and Health Tourism International Chamber of Commerce who are all making great strides in standards and uniformity.
Join The Noise
This is an industry that has many layers of the onion, with more to be discovered. Let's not let "medical imperialism" with bigotry towards foreign doctors, a "race" of prestigious US medical facilities to establish foreign satellites, or even fear of competition, overrun the real issues of patient care and an international effort in ensuring medical tourism / medical spa / spa standards.
I may be an idealist, and I hope there are a few of us left, but I believe we can continue to compel foreign officials in their desire for accreditation and create a balance for all involved. I will continue to promote the growth of standards and creativity without cutting corners.
You can join the cause and join the noise by contacting the Costa Rican officials on Spa / Medical Spa Standards and ensuring our national call for action, and the launch of a local spa association. Send comments to government officials to promote your concerns and the need for an evaluation system with an association and standards requests to;
o President of ICT (Costa Rica Tourism Board) – Carlos Ricardo Benevides
o Central Office: 011 506 2299 5800
o Minister of Tourism Planning – Antonio Farah
o Central Office: 011 506 2299 5293
o Minister of Competitiveness – Massimo Manzi
o Central Office: 011 506 2299 5293
In the meantime enjoy your medical travels, and don't forget to enjoy some of the cultural aspects of the beautiful countries that host foreign medical tourists. Spread the word. Make a difference.