Money & Business

What the Doctor Ordered: Rest & Relaxation

By / Dec 23, 2014 (iStock/Thinkstock)

Increasingly, patients are opting to combine serious medical procedures (and their long recoveries) with vacations. There’s even a term for it: medical tourism. And one trade group is working to stay out in front of this growing industry.

Recovering from surgery or other medical treatments can be a pain when it comes to the cost, especially in the case of elective procedures.

But medical tourism, the concept of taking a trip specifically to get a procedure (and enjoying the amenities along the way), has grown quickly in the past few years, and beyond being an industry that an association has helped shepherd, this phenomenon is one that human resources departments may want to research. Here’s why:

What’s behind the trend? In a Guardian article, Medical Tourism Association (MTA) President Renee-Marie Stephano suggested that the vast amount of information online was helping to boost freedom of choice when it comes to the where and when of medical procedures. “Domestic medical tourism has been growing significantly,” Stephano told the newspaper. “With the ease of information accessible on the internet, we’ve seen an increased element of choice.”

Who pays for it, anyway? In the past, those getting an operation outside of their local area generally ended up paying for it out of pocket, especially if the procedure was occurring abroad. AARP The Magazine notes that certain kinds of medical treatments that aren’t typically covered by traditional health plans—think extensive dental work or cosmetic surgery—are popular choices for medical tourism. And as this chart shows, the cost difference can be significant, depending on the procedure. But with recent changes in the healthcare landscape, more employers are considering covering medical tourism procedures. A 2014 Aon Hewitt survey, [PDF] which is cited in the AARP article, found that 25 percent of employers are considering adding an international medical-tourism feature to their plan offerings, with cost savings being a major motivator.

Trend taking off in USA, too: Medical tourism is not all about Americans leaving the United States to get procedures abroad, either. Some states are trying to lure overseas residents as well as those from other states. In Florida, for example, lawmakers tried—and failed—to pass a measure that would have set aside for $5 million in state funds market the state as a medical-tourism destination to a global audience.

How one association is helping boost the trend: MTA, as a leading advocate of medical tourism, assists governments, businesses, insurance companies, and healthcare providers with their programs. The group, based in Florida, offers certification and training programs to doctors, hospitals, and governments worldwide; holds annual meetings for its members; and helps industry officials find leads. The group also works to ensure that the industry holds itself to a high standard, and advocates for a transparent, communicative approach. “In order to ensure patient safety, it is our goal to create a transparency about the quality of healthcare that can be found in each country,” the association states on its website. “With this, it is increasingly important to create a transparency in pricing as well so patients traveling overseas for care can be sure of what they are receiving without hidden costs or unforeseen expenses.”

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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