Feb 24

I have mostly watched medical tourism from afar for several years, not participating in the so-called industry other than to continue to recommend my own dentists and to advise family, friends, acquaintances and strangers about how and when to access medical and dental care outside of the country.

I do know what I’m talking about — but I choose not to say much, very often. I have concerns about the Americanization of health care overseas, and also about general quality of care as more and more providers seek patients/clients/customers. A decade ago, when I first wrote about medical travel, I think it was actually easier for me to figure out an individualized approach if only because the doctors and dentists who were experienced were directly accessible. Now — that seems to be less prevalent.

I don’t know when or if I will update Beauty from Afar, the book, which is now eight years old, beyond the chapters on this site. It is available from online sellers for just a few dollars, at this point. I make nothing from it, which is fine. But I have moved on to other projects.

Back in the day — it was very exciting for me to be on NPR Talk of the Nation (Medical Tourism, and the Costs of Traveling for Care) and on ABC News (Money Matters, Special Report on Medical Tourism). If you’re interested in the topic — I think my book is still worth reading and those links are worth visiting. I’m leaving this site up — anywhere from 20-100 people a day still seem to want to take a look — but I’ll only be poking my head in episodically.

If you want to know what I’m up to, visit me at jeffschult.com … I am resolved to be there.

 

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Aug 16

Medical travel for major dental work, plastic surgery and other medical care continues to be in the news in the United States. On Friday evening, I was interviewed about the subject on the Your Time with Kim syndicated talk radio program.

You can listen to it here:

Kim Iverson — Jeff Schult interview on medical tourism

(Link fixed, Feb. 2015)

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Apr 22

Obviously, I drifted away from posting pages around Christmastime. It happens. Part of the problem was, and is, that Chapter 5 is chock-full of little tables giving sample search engine results for medical tourism terms. And tables are a pain (or relative pain) to move from printed page to web page.

But I’ll figure it out, soon.

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Dec 20

Happy holidays to all. It has been a hectic month and I haven’t had time to make much progress here for a couple of weeks. Surely, I’ll do better in the New Year.

The content of today’s page, I know, worried me back in 2005-2006. Choosing patient support sites for medical tourism and putting them in a book seemed like a bit of a crapshoot. If the sites disappeared, went rogue, even became … less than useful … they’d still be in Beauty from Afar forever. And it would matter, at least to me.

Chapter 5 Page 3  | Patient Support Sites for Medical Tourism

Happily, I chose well. PSJourneys.com and ObesityHelp.com, among other web site forums for patients, have not just survived but thrived.  MedRetreat remains among the leading medical travel companies.

The list would be longer if I was writing it today — but not a lot longer. There have been many attempts to establish online forums for medical travel and most of them have been shortlived.

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Dec 20

Chapter 5 Page 3  | Patient Support Sites for Medical Tourism

Patient Support Sites

For months, I wondered what was the most useful information I could put in this chapter when it came time to write it. Then it came to me. There are a number of forums on the Internet for patients to discuss cosmetic surgery, and there are many Web sites put up by patients who have been abroad for surgery. There are also a growing number of commercial Web sites that help connect prospective patients with overseas surgeons and even make all the arrangements for a surgery trip.

I’ll talk about some of them as we go along, but these are important, can’t-do-without-them Web sites. As it turns out, the best support site for patients who are looking into the option of going overseas for cosmetic surgery evolved before my eyes.

PlasticSurgeryJourneys.com
www.plasticsurgeryjourneys.com or www.psjourneys.com

PlasticSurgeryJourneys.com (PSJ), which used to be strictly a message group, has truly lived up to its promise of working toward being the best international plastic surgery resource and support group on the Web. Registration is required but membership is free as long as you post a message at least every 2 weeks. A premium membership, for those who don’t want to be held to the posting requirement or who simply want to support the site, is around $35 a year.

What sets PSJ apart is both the commitment of its founders and the quality and passion of its membership. The site has evolved rapidly, thanks to both. The forums are a trove of information compiled by a researching and questing army of patients and interested potential patients. If you want to read about the experiences that others have had in traveling abroad for cosmetic surgery, talk about choosing a surgeon, get advice in any aspect of planning your trip, or just crave a little company and moral support, PSJ is where you want to be looking. I drop in almost daily to see what’s new; as I type this, I notice that 55 people have answered the survey on “How much money would you say you have saved by having plastic surgery done outside the United States?” More than two-thirds of the respondents have chosen answers indicating an amount greater than $5,000.

ObesityHelp
www.obesityhelp.com

This site is a terrific resource for those considering weight-loss surgery. However, it is also a great site for anyone considering cosmetic surgery abroad. There is a voluminous message board for plastic-surgery patients, reviews of international surgeons, and a membership directory. Even if you are not obese, it’s well worth a look-through if you are interested in cosmetic surgery — particularly on the body rather than the face.

Medical and Travel Services

There is an entire industry growing up around the notion that medical tourism is “the next big thing,” or at least one of the next big things. Hospitals and surgeons in developing countries are not the only entities interested. Companies are springing up that will handle most of the details for prospective patients. One such company is the U.S.-based firm MedRetreat (www.medretreat.com), which was launched in the spring of 2005 and offers a full array of medical services in a number of countries. Individuals are starting businesses as medical tourist guides and booking agents for surgeons, and resorts and destinations are seeking to add medical services to their array of lures.

General Tourism

There are a seemingly infinite number of Web sites devoted to international tourism and travel, and they’re easy to find. However, I have a personal favorite that is appropriate as the final “must visit” site: Virtual Tourist (VT) (www.virtualtourist.com).

VT boasts more than 600,000 members from more than 220 countries and territories. Wherever you might want to go, whatever your questions might be, you can find someone at V T who has “been there, done that.”  Free registration is not required but is necessary to participate in some areas of the site.  In addition, I advise spending some time looking around at travel.state.gov, the U.S. State Department’s official site for international travel. There you will find information on all paperwork requirements for foreign travel; tips and warnings for traveling abroad, by country; and advice on health, safety, and emergency services.

Number One Priority: Good Research

The sites noted in this chapter are sufficient for anyone to begin and finalize a decision to travel abroad for cosmetic surgery. Consider them a baseline and prime points of entry. The next level — a step beyond my arbitrary but informed site recommendations — is the rest of the Internet. You’ll be searching it, of course. Below (next) are my best tips, customized for searching for information about medical tourism and cosmetic surgery in different countries. Your results will not be exactly the same, of course: search returns can change almost minute-to-minute, and the numbers below are an example, a snapshot in time.

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Nov 22

You probably found this blog post by searching the Internet, which might mean that you can skim or even skip Chapter 5 of Beauty from Afar, which starts today:

Chapter 5 Page 1 | Research, Research … and More Research

But then again, you might learn something even if you’re a whiz at Internet research. This is probably the most blatant “How-To” self-help-style chapter in the book and if you dislike self-help books generally, which I do, maybe you want to take a look through and see how I managed to make the material palatable … which I’m guessing I did. It starts off OK, anyway.

I really did have the notion that I *might* get enough of a book advance for Beauty from Afar to take a budget tour of the world’s best hospitals. As it turned out, I didn’t get quite that much and the advance payment mostly went for things like food and shelter.

I found the silver lining in having to do most of my research online and by phone, as you’ll see.

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Nov 22

Chapter 5 Page 1 | Research, Research … and More Research

Before I wrote a word of this book, I:

  • Read or at least skimmed and saved more than 6,000 posts about medical tourism and cosmetic surgery in Internet forums. I have no idea how many I read and did not save.
  • Accumulated more than 200 Internet bookmarks — and this is despite pruning my files regularly to try to only keep the ones I thought I absolutely needed.
  • Read or at least glanced through more than 1,500 news stories and press releases about medical tourism and cosmetic surgery. I read seven or eight books, only three of which I had to buy. I found the others in the library.

My e-mail folders for book material alone number more than 40, on two separate Internet accounts. Mercifully, I have unlimited long-distance at a flat rate in North America and very inexpensive overseas rates with an Internet phone service. The time I spent on the phone with surgeons and patients and other sources was extensive, but the cost was nearly inconsequential.

I say this not to boast, but to explain that doing the research for this book did not work out at all the way I had originally hoped. It was a grind, a day-in and day-out sifting and weighing of information that went on for a year. I had wanted to travel from country to country — around the world, in fact. In between plane flights, I had wanted to live in strange and new places, perhaps, on-and-off, for months. Everyone I e-mailed, everyone I talked to on the phone, I wanted to meet in person; and I still do.

Maybe someday. It was as unaffordable for me in 2005 as the dental work I needed was in 2003. I did go to some places. In the end, I realized, more traveling would not have made for a better or more useful book, though it would have been more fun for me and better for me and my sources to meet in person. But I might have skimped on the basic research. A reader might enjoy my around-the-world tour but find it the superficial account of a jet-setter. If you are going to consider the option of going abroad for medical care or cosmetic surgery or dental work, you probably won’t tour facilities in person around the globe, either. You’ll sit at home and research and read, as I did. Then you’ll either plan and go, or you won’t.

A lot of people are very good, even great, at doing research on the Internet. They may skim through this chapter, as skilled Internet researchers, familiar with the tricks and tips I am about to unveil. But I know from years of experience working for Internet companies that most people are less than expert in their use of computers and the Internet, even to the point of feeling helpless. But you, or a friend willing to help you, will need at least rudimentary computer skills — typing, mouse clicking, Web browsing — to get what you need from this chapter.

The Bare Minimum: General Resources

Recommending Web sites in a book is somewhat perilous. Books are immutable. Web sites come and go, change, move, break; they can go stale; they can even be stolen. However, there are a few — just a few — in which I have a high degree of confidence, enough to recommend them in print and discuss. They are enough to get anyone well-started who is interested in traveling abroad for cosmetic surgery or any other kind of medical care.

It is certainly possible, using the following dozen or so sites to:

  • Consider the cosmetic procedures in which you have an interest.
  • Decide whether traveling overseas for surgery is an option you want to consider.
  • Evaluate options as to which country to go to, which surgeon to consult, and where to stay.

You’d still have a whole lot of e-mails, phone calls, planning, and worrying ahead of you, but between this book and the Web sites provided, you should be able to glean enough to make informed decisions. You might make a few new virtual friends, as well. In most countries — the United States included — any licensed medical doctor can legally perform many cosmetic procedures and surgeries.

Checking credentials and references is critical, whether your prospective surgeon is in the United States or abroad. When asked about a “south-of- the-border” cosmetic surgery disaster story one Mexican surgeon simply told me: “There are charlatans everywhere. The United States has them. We have them. People have to be careful.”

I have known people to make a decision to travel abroad for cosmetic surgery and/or dental care on as little as the advice of one good friend. I’ve known others who agonized over the decision for months, researching perhaps as much as I did to write this book before making up their minds. Most people fall somewhere in between.

The big Internet search sites are a paramount tool, of course. I prefer Google (www.google.com), more out of habit than any firm conviction that it is the best, and will cite examples of using Google for searching and other services. I have no relationship of any sort with Google that compels me to mention it or cite its usefulness; I am simply used to working with it. However, if you are more comfortable with other search engines, or prefer using multiple search engines, I can not say that you will have any less success. Use what works for you. I will have occasion to mention Yahoo (www.yahoo.com) and MSN (www.msn.com) as well.

You will be able to find updated links and information at the support site for this book, www.beautyfromafar.com. (Author’s Note: That’s clearly a little superfluous if you are reading this online, eh?)

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Nov 20

We’re done with procedures and pricing. That’s all I’ve got, for now, anyway.

Chapter 4 Page 7 | What Else is Out There?

I liked finishing the chapter with the comments of the Indian M.D. who was elected president of the International Society of Minimally Invasive Cardiothoracic Surgery in 2005. Dr. Naresh Trehan has been a controversial figure at times in India, but I do not believe anyone would dispute his accomplishments. He said he would build MediCity, and he has:

Multi-speciality hospital Medanta commences operations

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Nov 20

Chapter 4 Page 7 | What Else is Out There?

Non-Cosmetic Procedures

Except for perhaps the very cutting-edge care techniques, for which the United States maintains a still-visible edge on the rest of the world, most surgical procedures are available elsewhere from qualified and reputable doctors, in state-of-the art facilities, and at prices sharply below those in the United States. The primary examples, for now, are the private, international hospitals of the Far East, most notably but not exclusively, those in Thailand, India and Malaysia.

International private hospitals advertise a variety of procedures and services, including but not limited to:

  • Cardiology and cardiothoracic (open heart) surgery
  • Joint replacements
  • Orthopedic surgery
  • Full-service gastroenterology procedures
  • Eye surgery and other ophthalmology procedures
  • Organ transplants
  • Urology and prostate procedures

They claim to be world-class, which United States residents can take to mean equivalent to or better than what they may have access to at home. There is strong evidence that the international hospitals are, in fact, that good. They represent an option that the uninsured and underinsured in the United States should not ignore, if facing unaffordable and unavoidable medical expenses.

As Good, or Even Better

The prestigious International Society of Minimally Invasive Cardiothoracic Surgery (ISMICS) is an organization dominated by United States and European doctors, so it is no surprise that when Naresh Trehan, M.D., of India, was elected president in 2005, it made big news. In an interview with the India Post he made the following points:

“Having lived in the United State for 20 years, ‘I know, to get equal recognition, we [foreign doctors] have to be 150 percent better than our counterparts in America.’

“There is huge inward flow [of patients to India] from the rest of the world.”

“I’m building MediCity, which will be like the Johns Hopkins or the Mayo Clinic of the East.”

“I am not in favor of advertising, but the information should be out to people that it is possible to access treatment [and get] good outcomes and affordable costs in India; and that the experience can be very positive if one chooses the right place.”

Can anyone really doubt that quality medical care is available globally? In the United States and elsewhere, however, it is increasingly the responsibility of the patient to evaluate medical options and make choices. Fortunately, the research tools are widely available, and people can learn to master them.

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Nov 15

I have not exactly breezed through Chapter 4, but it will be wrapped up with the next post. Today, we brush against: hair implants, ear pinning, weight loss surgery and dental procedures. This concludes Beauty from Afar’s summary of cosmetic procedures that people frequently seek outside of their own country.

Chapter 4 Page 6 | Other Cosmetic Procedures

In the conclusion of Chapter 4, I touch briefly on what is generally called complex medicine — no disrespect to cosmetic surgeons intended. This has to do more with treatment of disease, life-saving surgery, etc. And, of course, medical travel includes such care as well … though to date, at least for those who travel out of the United States, dentistry and cosmetic surgery remains the largest part of medical tourism.

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