Medical Vacations: A Retiree Health-Care Option?
The debate over U.S. health-care reform rages on. But why wait for someone else to dictate your future? You have many options — if you’re willing to take a vacation. If recovering from a medical procedure while lying on a palm-swept beach, relaxing by the hotel pool, at a luxurious spa or shopping for terrific bargains sounds good, then medical vacations may be exactly the right solution for you.
From hip replacement to heart surgery, more people are discovering the advantages of traveling abroad for their medical needs.
A big growth industry
In the past few years, medical vacations have gone from a tiny niche market to an impressive growth story with substantial market-share gains. From Mexico to India, Costa Rica to Thailand, hospitals are taking advantage of this global trend. And U.S. companies are taking note as well. Aetna and Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina are among the health-care companies tailoring their corporate health insurance plans to give employees the opportunity to head to India or elsewhere for surgeries such as knee replacements and the more modern, less invasive approach to hip replacement – hip resurfacing.
Costa Rica is currently an “in” destination for travelers, especially for dental and cosmetic surgery needs. Bangkok Dental Spa is an internationally recognized leader in the dental industry. Here you can complete all your dental needs whether it be cosmetic whitening or full mouth restoration while surrounded by the calming therapies of a luxury spa. In both countries, you can schedule for an appointment online and receive a custom-made package with quoted prices in your email response.
For years, people in the American Southwest have capitalized on the high-quality dental work available south of the border for a fraction of U.S. prices. Now more people are traveling to Guadalajara in Mexico for body augmentation and other surgeries, too. The English speaking doctors are U.S.-trained in their specialties, and the equipment is top of the line. We know, because we have used it.
In Asia, one of the world’s most acclaimed hospitals is located in Bangkok, Thailand. Bumrungrad looks more like a five-star hotel than a medical facility. You will be greeted by a white gloved doorman, there’s an impressive fountain on the first floor with shops for gifts and flowers and even a Starbucks. The second floor offers a variety of restaurants including Japanese, Italian, a French bakery and even a McDonalds. The third floor is where the hospital’s business is done. In the center is a round reception desk where a dozen office attendants who speak many of the world languages – English, German, Farsi, Thai, Japanese – will check you in and direct you to your doctor. You can make your appointment online and bring in your printed patient number and information, or simply drop in and make your arrangements in person.
Sheiks, Kings, Presidents and Prime Ministers from around the globe fly here for medical procedures, so you know this hospital is highly regarded. It’s a bustling, colorful and clean place. Bumrungrad’s website is user-friendly, as is its professional, English-speaking staff. The hospital has more than 200 surgeons who are board-certified in the United States.
Two hotels (one connected to the hospital by a link bridge) are operated by Bumrungrad specifically for international patients. These hotel rooms are offered at favorably competitive rates to comparable hotels in the area. In this manner, your family or traveling companion has a comfortable place close by to stay while you are receiving treatment and during recovery. We have quipped many times that the cheapest health care plan is an air ticket to Bangkok.
Also close by is the Bangkok Heart Hospital. Both of these facilities are located in the center of the city, with easy access to shopping and attractions. If you would like, they will arrange your hotel stay along with the medical procedure you’re having performed, all without waiting times or disqualifications. Your entire extensive physical will be done in one morning, with your blood results and consultation that afternoon. For the completion of this whole process, you can be in and out in a single day. How’s that for service?
Is it safe?
Many people interested in medical tourism are concerned about the quality and safety of going abroad for technical and complex medical care, and how to get post-operative care once they return home. All of the hospitals mentioned here use the latest equipment and are either internationally accredited facilities or have U.S.-trained physicians on staff. Some U.S. health plans also provide an in-state network of physicians who will treat a patient who’s gone abroad for medical care. The one thing that sets these hospitals apart from many of their U.S. counterparts is their attention to customer service — they are professional and courteous in a way you rarely see anymore at home. Once you have experienced the care offered abroad, you will see for yourself the unmistakable distinction between the two styles.
According to 2005 statistics from the University of Delaware, Escorts Heart Institute in Delhi and Faridabad, India, performs nearly 15,000 heart operations every year, and the death rate among patients during surgery is only 0.8 percent — less than half that of most major hospitals in the United States. India also has top-notch centers for hip and knee replacement, cosmetic surgery, dentistry, bone marrow transplants, and cancer therapy. Virtually all of these clinics are equipped with the latest electronic and medical diagnostic equipment.
Sounds good, but what’s the cost?
Even though you get high-quality care at these hospitals, prices are quite a bit lower than what you’ll find in the U.S. Several sources report big cost savings in recent years for many procedures. For example, coronary angiography in Bangkok costs less than $900. A metal-free dental bridge that runs $5,500 in the U.S. costs about $500 in India, and a knee replacement in Thailand with six days of physical therapy costs about a fifth of what it would in the States. Cosmetic surgery savings are even greater. A full facelift that might cost $20,000 in the U.S. runs about $1,250 in South Africa.
The attraction is straightforward. The costs for everything from facelifts, dental implants, or hormone therapy to reverse the effects of aging can be one-half or less for comparable procedures in the States. Have your surgery, then recover and recuperate in a beautiful mountain setting or at a resort hotel.
Most procedures can be found online, letting you know what’s included in the cost. The figure quoted to you will cover everything, including follow-up visits. There are no hidden charges, and the price includes the room, doctor, and staff.
In our almost 2 decades of retirement travel overseas, we have found quality health care with impressive service at an affordable cost. These personal experiences have caused us to view the delivery of health care at home in the States with a different perspective. Knowing that we have options from which to choose has released a very heavy mental burden from our lives.
I’m afraid to travel
What if you are not the traveling kind, or this whole idea seems too complex and out of your comfort zone? Then what?
Some medical tourism sites provide personalized service to ensure a safe and stress-free medical travel experience at no extra charge. They will answer your questions in real time on a toll-free telephone number within one hour of your time zone so you don’t have to wait for an email response. You will also be able to speak to a real person which can be very comforting when doing research regarding a personal health issue.
MedRetreat, for example, even goes so far as to offer a low-risk guarantee to their members, and if you are not 100% confident about your decision, you may cancel your procedure at any time without financial penalties assessed from the hospital or doctor.
Some sites offer an extensive Step-by-Step Guide. Everything is worked out for you so that all you have to do is follow the directions in each outlined step. If you are single, you may want to join a community of like-minded individuals planning on traveling abroad for various medical procedures. Having a travel buddy can help to remove the loneliness feeling while being in a foreign country, far from home.
If you have a high deductible healthcare plan, a limited benefit or a ‘mini-medical’ plan, this could be the perfect complement for you. And, if you’d like to retire soon, but you’re held back by health-care issues, or if you’ve got the health-care blues and need a holiday break, why not do some research online and take a vacation?
And when it’s time to recover, don’t forget your suntan lotion.
For more information on the topic of medical tourism with links to helpful sites, visit Retire Early Lifestyle Medical Options.
About the Authors
Akaisha and Billy Kaderli retired almost 2 decades ago at the age of 38 and began traveling the world. They wrote the popular book, The Adventurer’s Guide to Early Retirement which has sold in 40 countries. Read more of the wisdom, creative lifestyle options and information they share on their website.