Oct 03

Chapter 2 Page 1 | Comparing Quality, Comparing Costs

Why care abroad is just as good as in the United States, and
why it is so much less expensive than in the United States and Europe

If ever there was a day that America was going to be persuaded that traveling abroad for inexpensive plastic surgery is foolhardy and dangerous, it was July 2, 2004. On that day a story about cosmetic surgery overseas that came out of a news conference called by the city of New York made the front page of The New York Times; it subsequently made every major newscast, in fact. “A Warning on Cut-Rate Surgery Abroad”, was The Times’ headline.

At least nine women in New York and seven more elsewhere had been diagnosed with serious infections, all traced to their having had cosmetic surgery in the Dominican Republic. The Times attributed the problem to “what has apparently become a phenomenon among New York City’s Latinas: cosmetic surgery conducted in the Dominican Republic after being arranged through beauty salons in Washington Heights and other city neighborhoods.”

The city’s health commissioner, Thomas Friedman, M.D., and other officials called the bilingual news conference in the city’s Washington Heights section for the express purpose of warning New Yorkers (and anyone else who would listen): Don’t even think about going out of the country to have plastic surgery — especially to the Dominican Republic.

“It is so important to get the message that something that is cheap can be very costly,” said New York City Councilman Miguel Martinez. “It can cost you your life.”

Officials vowed to shut down what they said was a loosely coordinated network for recruiting patients, which they referred to as a “big business.” They called in the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to investigate.

Notably absent from the story, however, was any comment from doctors, surgeons, or officials in the Dominican Republic, though The Times quoted several women from the Washington Heights area, who shrugged off the warning. One woman said she had had a $3,000 tummy tuck done in Santo Domingo a few years earlier without a problem. She told The Times she knew of hundreds of women from Washington Heights who had cosmetic surgery procedures done in the Dominican Republic and that only a few had complications. In fact, she said she was planning to go back again for more cosmetic surgery the next month.

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Sep 16

(January 2006)

A Bangladeshi, a Brit, an Arab and a New Yorker were sitting in a doctor’s waiting room …

What could be a preamble for an off-color joke is in reality the tangible face of the medical-tourism phenomenon. What brings together such a rich melange of people to a medical facility thousands of miles from the comfort of their homes? In fact, their motivation is as diverse as their cultures, languages, and geography.

The Bangladeshi seeks an alternative to the less-developed medical system in his own country. He comes for quality.

The British woman undergoing radiation therapy for her breast cancer is side-stepping the long queue in England?s socialized health-care scheme. She comes for access.

The affluent Emirati from the United Arab Emirates is seeing four doctors in one morning with a personal interpreter/valet in tow and a steaming cup of Starbuck’s coffee in his hand. He comes for service.

Then there is the New Yorker. What on Earth is he doing here? What has possessed this 55-ear-old upper-middle-class stockbroker from one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world to leave behind arguably the most sophisticated medical system on the planet to have surgery in Asia? He is one of 40 million uninsured Americans who is self-employed, not rich, not poor, old enough to need his prostate removed but not old enough to qualify for Medicare. And he does not want to pay the high price for private medical insurance. He comes for price.

But the Americans can not be sold on price alone. Our friend from New York is a case in point. Of course, the price was 80 percent less than that of the U.S. quotes he got. But being a day-trader, he knows his research. He knows what he wants — a cutting-edge minimally invasive laser procedure for prostate removal by a surgeon who has done the most of that procedure in the world, in a hospital that is of international standard that could take him right away. His search brought him to Asia.

He came for quality?; and access?; and service; ?and price.

As an American who has lived in Asia for over a decade, I can safely say that we Americans are a demanding bunch. And it is truly a leap of faith to trust your health to a doctor that you have never met at a hospital you have never seen in a country you have to find first on a map.

This is the value then of Jeff Schult’s excellent guide to the world of medical tourism. Jeff has scoured the hot-spots of medical tourism, talked to the patients, Googled the Internet to within an inch of its life, and taken the plunge himself into overseas health care. The result is a balanced, unbiased, and thoughtful guide for the informed consumer. Beauty from Afar is an entertaining and practical handbook that includes important considerations that any prospective medical tourist would? and should? consider before making the “leap”.

I thought I knew a lot about the subject, having lived it for 10 years. Jeff has opened a whole new world of possibilities, and he has made me a student again. I am convinced more than ever that medical tourism is not a fad. It is not about “cheap” health care. It is about smart, well informed people looking for quality service at a reasonable price in a world where distances and lines drawn on a map are not the barriers they once were.

Decisions about your health are important. Read this book. Do your own research. Make smart, informed decisions. Maybe you can narrow the leap of faith to be more of a hop.

Healthy Travels!

Curtis J. Schroeder
Group Chief Executive Officer
Bumrungrad International
Bangkok, Thailand

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