Traveling abroad for health care is gaining media attention in the United States and some industry experts say the competition could help our system here at home.
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Female Speaker: Google the phrase Medical Tourism and you'll come up with pages of information, and this basic definition, Medical Tourism: traveling to another country to receive health care. The term might be new to you, but the idea is not. Renee-Marie Stephano: Medical tourism has been around for decades in Asia and Europe. People have been traveling for health care to different countries, and the primary reason that they do that is, in Europe and Asia, for better health care in those cases or more affordable health care. Female Speaker: Professionals who study and work in the industry say it's primarily because of cost that Americans are choosing to board a plane and seek treatment in other countries. For 2005 it's estimated 500,000 Americans ventured abroad to receive treatment everything from cardiac surgery to facelifts to dental work, yet they are some dispute whether this is truly a health care movement or political tool or both. Ken Erickson: Individuals who have no insurance, maybe seeking care in other countries and as getting the press, but in reality there is no corporation, there is no corporate movement and there is no movement on a large scale to actually send people overseas for care. John F.P. Bridges: People are using the health care tourism and medical tourism as a symptom of a disease that's eating away the health care system due to lack of insurance and not as an opportunity. Female Speaker: The numbers vary as to how large an opportunity medical tourism is or will be for Americans. Author Maggi Grace who witnessed first hand health care in another country will tell you. It's a great option, but not the answer for everyone. Maggi Grace: I have elderly parents and I would be very reluctant to put them on a 16 hour flight or 24 hour flight to India regardless of what the facility was like there, just to travel itself can be so daunting. Female Speaker: Besides personal obstacles, proponents of medical tourism say the remains in our society, the ever pervasive question of quality in foreign health care. Darrell Douglas: It's so foreign to Americans to think in terms of health care being available that's as good as what we get in this country, that it's available in some country. That's just a foreign concept to most of us. It was to me. Three years ago, I hadn't ever heard of medical tourism until I started investigating it with a group of our employers. One barrier is a public perception, no doubt. Secondary is just the physical aspect of traveling abroad. Female Speaker: Some give better reviews of the options than others. Renee-Marie Stephano: The quality of care in many international hospitals is very, very high. There are a lot of hospitals that are JCI Accredited. There are hospitals that are not JCI Accredited, but that have qualified surgeons who are either Board Certified in the US or were trained and experienced in the US. Ken Erickson: The people who are medical tourist are at their last resort. So they are willing to forgo safety, security, accreditation to get a procedure for a low cost. So that's the market. Female Speaker: While opinions vary on the nature of the market, experts agree there are a number of barriers before there is a true globalization of health care. State licensing laws, legal liability issues, restriction on collaboration among health care providers, lack of follow-up care and a lack of information are some of the hurdles. Renee-Marie Stephano: There is not one place that you can go for this information. What you have is, you have different websites for different hospitals, and you need to sift through them and hope that they are providing information on quality care indicators as well as outcomes on procedures. Most of the time you need to do a lot of emailing or phone calls to get some of that information. Female Speaker: Hurdles aside, most industry professionals we spoke with say medical tourism has the potential to impact health care within the United States in a pos