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THAILAND | Saturday, 8 May 2010 | Views [990]

Recently I became an advocate of medical tourism.
Medical tourism is the relatively new, yet rapidly expanding, practice of traveling to another country to obtain health care. Typical services sought after are plastic surgery, elective procedures, complex specialised surgeries and dentistry - the type I experienced.

So why are so many people leaving their 'developed' countries to get health treatment in less developed countries? Because costs of health care are high and there are long waiting lists, while international travel is easy, affordable, and both the technology and standard of care in developing countries has improved.
These factors have seen a recent explosion in the number of American, English, Canadian, French and Australian citizens heading overseas to get the nose, knees, hips, breasts or teeth they want.

Countries such as those aforementioned are often so taxed, it can take a long time to get non-urgent medical care. This is due to their population, income and expense of health care all being high.
Additionally, patients of modern nations are discovering their insurance doesn't cover what they need, (a good example being orthopedic surgery), or imposes restrictions on the choice of surgeon, facility or prosthetic used they can access, even with their health care.
So now a lucrative industry has opened in medical tourism. Rather than paying a certain amount each week or month towards any possible health cover you might need, these same people are simply getting quotes from reccommended doctors and facilities overseas, saving the money, buying a ticket and heading off to get the health service they need or want, at a fraction of the price. Throw in being able to stay in a five star resort to recover, and you've got a multimillion dollar industry.

Popular destinations for medical tourism include: Argentina, Brunei, Cuba, Colombia, Costa Rica, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Jordan, Lithuania, Malaysia, The Philippines, Singapore, South Africa and Thailand - where I had my "work" done.
Medical tourism is a hastily growing segment of Thailand's tourism industry. In 2006, it was projected that it contributed 36.4 billion baht to the Thai economy.
Treatments tourists travel to Thailand for range from cosmetic surgery and dentistry to organ transplants, cardiac surgery and orthopedic treatments.

Advantages of being a medical tourist include that (for the main part) you don't have to wait - you can simply book in and get your desired procedure done as early as the very next day. You can recuperate from your treatment in a high class hotel, receive a good level of after-care and it costs a fraction of the price you would pay back home for the same procedure.
One patient who had coronary artery bypass surgery at Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok said the operation cost him US$12,000, as opposed to the $100,000 it would have cost him at home.

Personally, I have disliked my teeth for years. When my milk teeth were replaced by adult teeth, they didn't line up as they should have, resulting in a crooked smile. Add to this, my blatant disregard for regularly visiting a dentist, coupled with the consumption of red wine, black coffee, tea and tobacco, and the result has been me smiling with my mouth clamped shut for the past few years, as not to allow anyone a glimpse of my offensive chompers.

Like the majority of medical tourists, in my home country I don't have private health care. Australia's health system doesn't cover treatments such as cosmetic dentistry. So for me to get my teeth professionally cleaned and have a single 45 minute session of 'ZOOM' laser whitening, it would cost me about $1000, the cheapest I found was $890 and there was still a few months wait for that dentist.

A few weeks ago, I walked into a dental surgery on Koh Samui island in southern Thailand. In less than five minutes, I made an appointment for the very next morning. Having researched what I wanted and how much it should cost, helped me feel confident and in control.

Early the next day, I had the procedure explained to me in English, with clear diagrams and models of the procedure. I then sat down in the dentist chair, got my teeth professionally cleaned and laser whitened (by the exact same 'ZOOM' procedure I had looked into in Australia) in less than an hour. It cost me $250.
After this experience, I would recommend to anyone that they get the health care they can't afford, or isn't available, in their home country done in another.
Even including my flight to Thailand (which wasn't solely for my dental work), I would still have paid less than getting the same treatment at home.

If medical tourism appeals to you, minimise any possible risks. Take the time to research the procedure, any conditions for getting it done, any after-effects, your recovery time, as well as the surgeon, facility and country you will travel to.

SOURCES:
"Medical tourism growing worldwide" University of Delaware, published online. Interview with Marvin Cetron, founder and president of Forecasting International, on growing trends in medical tourism.
http://www.udel.edu/PR/UDaily/2005/mar/tourism072505.html

"Guide to tourism for health reasons" Healthguide.com Statistics for Medical Tourism.
http://www.health-tourism.com/medical-tourism/statistics/

Tags: dental, health, medical tourism, surgery

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