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Is it safe to travel outside the U.S. for a medical procedure? Four considerations

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Can you trust the doctors and surgeons? The answer is yes—if you seek treatment at a reputable medical center with certified, experienced, reputable medical professionals.

Healthcare costs, especially pharmaceuticals and surgeries, are astronomical in the United States. When health insurance doesn’t cover certain procedures and out of pocket costs are too high, people seek treatment out of the country. This is known as medical tourism.

Medical tourism is a booming industry and is expected to generate more than $52 billion by 2023. Each year, more than 500,000 Americans travel outside the country for medical procedures because the cost is too high in the U.S.

If you’re considering heading out of the country for a medical procedure, you can expect to save about 90% even after paying for travel and accommodations. For example, Mexico’s bariatric surgery is about 80% cheaper than in the U.S., even after travel and accommodation costs are considered.

While the money saving prospects look good, is it safe? Can you trust the doctors and surgeons? The answer is yes—if you seek treatment at a reputable medical center with certified, experienced, reputable medical professionals.

How can you know who to trust in a foreign country? The following tips will help.

1. Research your medical center and its doctors
Whether you’re headed to Singapore, Mexico, Thailand, or another country, do your research first, but don’t rely on the internet. In-depth research involves more than searching online for information and reviews. Many businesses buy fake reviews that can look legitimate. If you’re going to place your life in the hands of doctors you don’t know, you have to do more than look online.

Make a list of the names and claimed credentials for all of the medical personnel who work at your chosen medical facility. This is information you can usually find on the medical center’s website. Next, verify those credentials. This might take some time.

In the U.S., you’d check with the ABMS, ABPS, or the AOA. Similarly, for doctors in another country, you’ll need to find out what organizations provide the certifications. Most international medical professionals can be verified through the International Medical Travel Journal.

Then, you’ll need to verify two things: that the doctors are certified as claimed and that those doctors actually work at your chosen medical facility.

Unfortunately, many people who don’t thoroughly check their surgeon’s credentials and reputation prior to surgery. Verifying board certification is one of the only ways to avoid the terrible experiences that result from hasty decisions. Medical tourism isn’t dangerous. However, it’s up to each individual to do their due diligence.

2. Verify that credentialed doctors really work at your facility
People who commit fraud by impersonating doctors will use the names and credentials of real doctors in order to pass casual verification efforts. They’re counting on most people stopping their search when they discover that a certain doctor is genuinely certified.

For your safety, go the extra mile to make sure your chosen medical facility isn’t deceptively using the names and credentials of real doctors. Verify credentials, but also verify that those doctors work at that particular facility.

Don’t just call the facility to verify a doctor’s employment. Search around to find out if any of the listed doctors might work at other facilities.  If you find evidence that one of the doctors might work somewhere else, call that other facility for clarification. Maybe the doctor used to work somewhere else. If you can’t get a straight answer, choose a different facility.

3. Get recommendations from people you know
Chances are, you know somebody who has gone through a medical procedure in another country. Ask around in your circles to see if anyone has any recommendations.

If you need dental work, you’ll probably find several people who have had dental work done in Mexico. Getting high-quality dental work done in Mexico is probably the most popular use of medical tourism. Every American with dental insurance knows you can’t get cosmetic procedures covered and coverage for necessary procedures is limited.

Even after getting recommendations, always verify medical credentials.

4. Find out how your medical facility plans to handle COVID-19 precautions
Right now, you still have the opportunity to travel abroad for medical procedures. Technically, medical tourism has remained an exception to most travel bans across the world. However, there’s no guarantee a foreign medical facility will take proper precautions to protect against the novel coronavirus.

For peace of mind, call ahead to find out what you can expect in terms of COVID-19 precautions taken by doctors, staff, and patients.

Take your time scheduling your appointment
Don’t rush your international medical appointment(s). Do your research and don’t make any decisions until you feel completely confident in a medical facility.

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