Medical travel is increasingly becoming a popular method of seeking healthcare solutions today. Driven by the cost savings, better quality of care, great patient experience, and the swift availability of care offered by many medical travel destinations, patients have many options to choose from around the globe. However, while medical travel does open up a door of opportunities to access better quality healthcare with potentially enormous cost savings, it is not always easy to find the right healthcare or dental provider for your specific needs.
Here are the top 10 questions to ask before traveling abroad for medical care.
1. Are you comfortable with the destination country or region?
Certain factors, such as proximity, entry requirements, tourism attractions, language and culture, may not directly affect the quality of healthcare offered in a destination, but they heavily impart the patient experience and are worth considering.
Is travel to a medical travel destination going to be seamless or are there multiple red tapes and bottle necks you need to cross? Is the region or destination country safe and politically stable? Will there be communication challenges as you navigate the healthcare system in the destination country?
These variables heavily impact the patient experience and the care outcomes, so are integral to the medical care journey. Get answers from your medical travel facilitator or the medical travel program, do your own research, and determine if the destination is the right one for you.
2. Does the recommended physician/surgeon have the necessary qualifications and experience?
If your new SUV develops a fault and you’re thinking or repairs, you want to find out if the recommended mechanic has the requisite skills to fix the problem. You want to see reviews and examine his track records before handing your expensive car to him or her.
Likewise, if you are considering surgery for your prolonged arthritis or structural heart defects or a congenital abnormality, you want to be very sure the surgeon has what it takes to achieve optimal results. Ask for their qualifications, experience with the particular treatment you have been recommended for, check for their success and complication rates, patient reviews, and their experience dealing with international patients. Any hospital, clinic or medical travel facilitator that has experience with international patients should be able to provide this information.
If these do not tick the boxes for you, it may be worth considering another medical travel destination until you find your answers.
3. Is the hospital or clinic accredited?
Accreditation builds trust and confidence in the services provided by the hospital or clinic. As with almost any organization, being accredited by reputable third-party demonstrates a commitment to global best practices. In healthcare, accreditation shows a healthcare organization’s commitment to standards of quality, safety, and high care outcomes.
Being accredited puts trust in the process and keeps you confident in the safety and quality of care provided by a medical travel program. Ask about validation by some recognized accrediting bodies, such as the Joint Commission International, Accreditation Canada, and Global Healthcare Accreditation.
Global Healthcare Accreditation (GHA) pays a unique focus on the patient experience and demonstrates to health payers and patients that, beyond providing quality healthcare outcomes, a medical provider is committed to ensuring you get the best experience across all phases of the continuum of care, from departure to discharge. To see which healthcare providers are accredited or certified by GHA, visit GHA Accredited Providers.
4. Is your medical travel facilitator well-acquainted with the referral hospital?
Although medical tourism facilitators play a key role in helping medical tourists connect with the right medical programs for their healthcare needs, the mediocre ones may just lead patients to even more problems.
So, it is important to ask if your medical travel agents have done their due diligence and visited and have a formal relationship with the health providers or dental clinics they are recommending to you? Are they recommending these centres because just for the referral commissions they can get or are they truly committed to helping you achieve better healthcare outcomes?
5. Does the hospital or clinic have an international patient services department?
Providing care for international patients is somewhat more complex than treating domestic patients because of the enormous pre-travel planning involved in assessing patient suitability for treatment and also in communicating with the patient, who might have a widely different cultural background or language to that of the destination country.
Therefore, to address these complex needs, it is important for a healthcare provider accepting international patients to have an organized structure, such as an international patient department. This department is responsible for all pre-travel, inpatient, and post-treatment logistics including pre-travel communication and medical evaluation, communication services, such as provision of translators or interpreters where applicable, accommodation, hospital transport, post-treatment follow-up plan.
If the hospital you intend to have your treatment with does not have an international patient department, it may suggest that these complex needs may not be addressed effectively.
6. What is included in my medical procedure?
Before signing up for that medical trip, you might want to find out what your payments cover and if there are hidden or potential extra charges. Is the payment all-inclusive, or you have to pay for follow-up treatment, accommodation, feeding, and transportation? If you are traveling with a companion, does your payment include logistics for your companion?
What are the policies on payments for medical complications or emergencies that are unrelated to your primary medical concern?
Also, it is important to be clear about all the payment options available: if you use credit cards, find out which ones are accepted and if payment is made in cash, find out about the maximum amount of money you can bring in or take out of the country.
7. What are the potential risks of treatment in the destination?
While nearly every medical treatment has inherent risks, traveling to another destination to receive them comes with some unique risks. Find out about the potential risks you’re exposed to for receiving care in that destination.
What infectious disease risks are you vulnerable to in the destination? Some regions of the world, including Africa, Southeast Asia, and Central America are endemic to Malaria, for instance, and you may easily contract the infection without necessary prophylaxis. Similarly, Viral hemorrhagic fevers, which are caused by deadly viruses, are endemic to parts of Asia, South America, and Africa.
Ask about what prophylaxis or prevention you might need to lower your risks of these diseases and how the hospital or clinic is taking measures to prevent on-site spread of these infections.
Further, find out about potential medical risks of the treatment and how travel might impact those risks. A case in point is blood clots in the legs and lungs following hip, knee, or ankle surgeries, the risk of which may be increased by immobility during travel.
8. What happens if a medical complication arises?
Treatment does not end with a procedure; it also involves managing potential complications. While potential risks and complications are often explained to patients before any procedures or treatments, it is important to know what happens if any of those risks occur.
For instance, what happens if you develop a prosthesis infection after a hip or knee replacement? What happens if you develop an infection after an abdominal wall reconstruction? It is important for the medical tourism destination to have clear protocol for handling common complications of surgery, with a clear policy that lets you know what your payments cover for, and where extra payments might be applicable.
9. How are communication barriers tackled?
Communication is a crucial part of patient care, and an important determiner of patient outcomes. Communication starts before the patient even books their flight to the medical travel destination country, and should involve a free flow of information between both parties. If there are any barriers to communication, particularly language discordance, patients might lose trust in their care provision.
Ask if the primary physician or surgeon who would treat you can speak your language and understands your cultural context. If they don’t speak your language, is there a team readily available to provide translation services? In what language would you get your medical notes or discharge summaries? Will they be available in your language, so your local hospitals can have records as well?
10. What happens after discharge?
It is important to know a medical travel destination’s discharge protocol. Does treatment cover end with the procedure and you have to sort yourself out afterward? Do you need any further follow up by the physicians or surgeons in the hospital and who would arrange that? Can follow up be arranged in your local hospital as well?
Treatment also includes the recovery phase and medical tourism programs that are committed to quality and safety continue to follow up with patients until they achieve full recovery. Ask about the post-discharge follow-up, instructions, and appointments, as well as who would communicate with you and through what channels
The medical travel journey is a complex one and one that needs careful planning and thorough coordination. It is crucial to ask important questions about the care continuum, touching every phase of the care journey. Before booking that flight or appointment with the overseas medical program, ensure to ask these top 10 questions.