Medical Tourism: Global Competition in Health Care

Health | International | Policy Reports

No. 304
Thursday, November 01, 2007
by Devon M. Herrick

How Patients Obtain Treatment Abroad

“Medical intermediaries help patients select physicians and hospitals.”

Patients who aren't familiar with specific medical facilities abroad can coordinate their treatment through medical travel intermediaries.  Many intermediaries use the Internet to recruit patients. These services work like specialized travel agents. Clients of MedRetreat, for example, can choose from a menu of 183 medical procedures from seven different countries:  India, Thailand, Malaysia, Brazil, Argentina, Turkey and South Africa.

“PlanetHospital charges a flat fee for medical intermediary services.”

Intermediaries investigate health care providers and screen customers to assess those who are physically well enough to travel.  Some intermediaries are affiliated with specific medical providers and send patients exclusively to those providers.  But most intermediaries seek to create a broad network of providers and destinations to meet the diverse needs of patients.  For instance, some patients might prefer to pay a higher fee in exchange for less travel time, while others might be willing to travel greater distances to save money.

“Pricing is highly competitive for procedures that aren't covered by insurance.”

In addition, intermediaries often have doctors and nurses on staff to assess the medical efficacy of procedures and help patients select physicians and hospitals.  For example, Medical Tours International, which sent more than 1,300 patients abroad in 2005, employs medical personnel to assist patients in trip planning and treatment decisions.

One of the best-known firms in the medical tourism industry is California-based PlanetHospital.  [See the sidebar, “PlanetHospital.”]

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