advertisement

People travel for many different reasons, two popular ones are to look or feel better. That frequently means surgery, the plastic type to make you more attractive or the medical type to fix up what ails you. Since costs are so high in the US, some travelers are getting the work done abroad, often at half the cost or even less, than what it would take here. These trips are not all that new, either. One of my flight attendant friends had her face lifted in Tokyo many moons ago, with the added option that nobody back home was there to witness her cocoon-to-butterfly discomfort.

The routine is now becoming commonplace, and thanks to the progress of medical science in dozens of countries abroad, generally safe and always cheaper. The bonus is that you can take in a foreign clime, often exotic, with new sights and experiences every day of your stay. Moreover, many hospitals are affiliated with several US package providers, and some are considered quite good. One such, often written about, is Bumrungrad (www.bumrungrad.com), in Bangkok. This Thai hospital is fully accredited (see below) and is managed by an international group of administrators, the medical chairman being board certified in the UK, the group medical director board certified in the US.

Med Journeys (tel. 888/633-5769; www.medjourneys.com) says it is "the leading US-based medical tourism company," and it has a formidable website, indicating hospitals in nine countries and several levels of participation. You can book an all-inclusive package, for instance, with "VIP/Premium Concierge Service" as well as the medical components. In any event, you will have both a Case Manager and a Host Country Manager to look after your care. They offer about 50 different procedures, from operations for hernia to open heart surgery, to mention just two of them. Supervising the case managers is an Operations Manager, while doctors and nurses, of course, provide the care in question. Based in New Jersey, the firm now offers surgery in Brazil, Costa Rica, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Poland, Singapore, Thailand and Turkey.

Also a leader is Medical Tours International (tel. 800/680-1366; www.medicaltoursinternational.com), which lists 16 specialties (including neurosurgery and cardiac bypass), and has arrangements with several hospitals in five countries. The destinations include Costa Rica, India, Mexico, Panama and Thailand. Dental work in Costa Rica is especially popular, they say.

If you are looking for plastic surgery, you might want to consider Surgical Services International (tel. 800/852-0963, www.surgicalservicesinternational.com), based in Venezuela, with offices/contacts in Miami, Los Angeles, New York, Dallas and London. Its founder, Tonya Peterson, says she got the idea to provide this kind of service when she and her family had to have medical and dental work done in Majorca some time ago. The low cost and high quality of service she found there convinced her that she could provide a service to others in steering them abroad for work. Her site says a face lift, the average cost of which they say at home would be $8,500, will cost only about $4,075 with SSI, a total knee replacement (normally $23,000) just $8,500. Only two hospitals are listed, both on the isle of Margarita, off the Venezuelan coast.

Another firm, MediTravels (tel. 636/527-9500; www.meditravels.org), says it is part of Venus LLC, a group of companies that provide Internet-based services, including financial and medical equipment companies. This St. Louis-based outfit says it has made deals with healthcare facilities in Barbados, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dubai, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Philippines, Singapore, South Africa, Taiwan and Thailand. When you sign up with them, you have a US-based Personal Assistant to guide you through the paperwork, and when you arrive overseas, there is a Remote Assistant to help you through the procedure and housekeeping there.

These are but four examples of companies offering deals abroad for US residents hoping to escape the high cost of optional surgery. Be sure to check out any firm's business credentials and research each claim diligently before booking any procedure or package. (Prices are available in most cases only when you specify a certain operation, and most do not post typical rates on their websites.)

All the organizations described above say they are members of the Joint Commission International, which is affiliated with JCAHO, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, a nonprofit group in business for more than 50 years, which accredits and certifies more than15,000 healthcare organizations and programs in the USA. The JCI, founded in 1998, has so far accredited about 100 hospitals in 25 countries. They can be reached at www.jointcommissioninternational.org.

Note: The author is vice president (pro bono) of the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers (IAMAT, www.iamat.org), a registered not-for-profit charity.

Talk with other Frommers.com travelers our Health, Safety & Travel Insurance Message Boards.