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The rising cost of surgery is prompting rnore and more Australians to head overseas for a wide range of medical procedures, writes Bonnie Vaughan

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people looking for cheap plastic surgery

with a beach holiday thrown in anymore.


ln the past few years, it's become a booming business for a range of major procedures including heart, brain, spine and joint surgeries. As Australia's public hospitals struggle

to keep up with
increasing demand and private healthcare
costs are seen as

WF]Y ARE MCRE AUSTRALiANS TRAVELL]NG OVERSEAS F'OR iIEALTFICARE?


Anita Medhekar, an economics lecturer at
Central Queensland University who specialises in medical travel research, believes the trend is due to a combination of factors. "Surgery costs have become so high in this

quality of life goes down,


says Medhekar. Cassandra Italia, founder

cosmetic and dental surgeries, other popular

of Global Health Travel, a medical travel facilitation


agency that, she says,

treatments include orthopaedic surgery


(such as hip and knee replacement and knee and shoulder arthroscopy), spinal surgery, heart surgery or valve replacement, Lasik and eye surgery, and such reproductive procedures as fVF and surrogacy.

prohibitive, more and


more Australians are heading overseas for

makes arrangements for more than 8oo clients a year, confirms that

immediate treatment
by internationally-

trained surgeons at a fraction of the price. lndeed, with the rise of overseas'medicities', comprising state-ofthe-art hospitals, full post-operative care facilities and hotel accommodation all on one site, many in the

country that even middleclass people can't afford treatment," she explains.
"You also have people who are under-insured or uninsured - and even those with private health insurance find that certain procedures aren't covered or that they've reached their rebate limit for the year." Then there are public

plummeting quality of life issues prompt many of her clients to sign up. Italia also points out that even ifyou have private health insurance, it may be a month or two before you'll get booked in for
surgery. "We could have you on a plane the next day and in surgery two
days later," she says. Italia adds that many top overseas hospitals

WHICH
ARE THE TOP

DESTINATIONS
FOR AUSTRALIANS?

industrywould liketo see the term medical tourism rebranded as


either medical travel or global healthcare. We've spoken to two experts to find out what you need to know - as well as to a very satisfied medical tourist.

Thailand, Singapore, India, Malqysia and the Middle East.

offer both state-of-the-art facilities and cutting-edge technology that are not available here in Australia.

hospital waiting periods that can sometimes stretch up to 18 months. "With


some complex illnesses

WHJCII PROCEDURES ARE THE MOST SUITABLE?


Most mainstream major surgeries. In addition to

HCW SIGNIF'ICANT ARE THE SAVINGS?


Up to 7o per cent. For example, the most recent cost-comparison fi gures

or ailments, Iong waiting


periods mean people's

showthatheartbypass

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47

surgery costing $33,34o in Australia is just $93oo in India, $rr,ooo in Thailand and $16,5oo in Singapore.

from the JCI website,

wwwjointcommission
international.org. You should check for national accreditation as well, and make sure the doctor's credentials are up to par.

Although overseas medical costs are not covered by Australian private health
insurance, Italia says that
even factoring in flights,

and remain in contact each step of the way. Some may also provide recovery apartments staffed by registered nurses.
Choose a facilitator

with

a proven track record of working with

accommodation and patient


care, the savings are

IS

A SPECIAL

JCl-accredited hospitals and clinics.

While Medhekar says this is a subject ofdebate rather than fact, she advises that it's crucial to investigate the public hygiene standards of the country you choose. "In Singapore, for instance, it's world standard," she says.
Likewise, choose a

still

VISA REQUIRED?

considerable.

Yes

and

if a fitend

WHAT HAPPEN:],T FOLLCW-UP CARE


ISREQi_ilRED?
Your facilitator should ensure that everything goes according to plan, even after you return home. Italia says that return visits are rare. "We've had a couple of cases where the patient has had to go back and we've helped facilitate that," she says. "We also help arrange

WHE\] CONS]DER]NG
MEDJCAL TRAVEL, WIJER,E S ]'IIE BEST

PLACB TC START?
Unless you have a particular

or fb.rrrrly member accompanes you you'll need a medica1 escort Vlsa as well
'Some countnes have rrtroduced
medrca-lvrsas on

hospital that caters to significant numbers of international patients. Thailand's Bumrungrad International Hospital, for example, offers detailed information about its health and safety practices
on the website.

recommendation from a friend, Medhekar suggests that you choose your destination country and go online to find out which hospitals specialise in treating foreign patients. Examine their websites and make an online

a-flival for patients n critrca-l situatrons,' advrses Medhekar

HOU,'CAN A MED]CAL TRAVEL FA'TI TTATOR iiELP?


Simply put, they do all the legwork for you and provide a support system throughout the process and beyond. They'll also guide you through hospital and surgeon choices. "We spend time with the patient and help them make an informed decision about their medical treatment," says Italia. "Then we take care of all aspects - booking the appointments, visa and travel arrangements and all the logistics." A reputable agency will provide a care team in the destination country to meet you at the airport, escort you to your appointments

appointment with one of their doctors. Another option is to find a reputable medical travel facilitator (see right).

follow-up care through Sk1pe, where the patient can talk directly with their doctor online."
Patients can purchase medical travel insurance

Ifyou

choose to deal

directly with a hospital, the first thing you need to look for is accreditation
by the Joint Commission

International (JCI),

global patient safety and

quality care evaluation organisation which is itself accredited by the

that will provide coverage both in the destination country and back home in Australia in case there are any post-operative complications. Look for a policy that will also cover the flight, accommodation and treatment should you need to return.

In addition, be wary of dodry agencies. "You hear about people having botch jobs in Thailand and the reason is because they're not going to accredited facilities," warns Italia. "If you're already saving 40 Io 70 per cent, don't go for the super-cheap option because you will run into trouble." The upshot, says Italia, is that people need to be aware that medical travel is not a holiday. "It's surgery and it should
be taken seriously, so do

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your research."

International Society for Quality in Healthcare and is effective in over too


countries worldwide. Alternatively, you can search for accredited health facilities by country directly 48

WIIAT SIIOULD
YCU BEWARE OF?
Some health experts warn that Australians who travel overseas are risking exposure to superbugs.

For more information on what you need to know about medicai travel, on ]-n l_ho lnternational Medrcal Travel Journal website at ww-wimtj com.

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"l was bulimic as a teenager and

developed chronic morning sickness when I got pregnant at 20. lwas also diagnosed with Crohn's
disease six years ago. Because of all

this, I was vomiting 20 to 30 times a day for 16 years and it ruined my teeth completely. And my teeth were making me sicker. Last year, once my Crohn's disease was under control, my doctor told me that I should get my teeth fixed.
My dentist referred me to
a

dental clinic, it was decided ld have the extractions done under general anaesthetic at Paolo Memorial Hospital.They took a cast of my mouth for my temporary dentures, I went back the next day to try them out and get some adjustments, and returned the following day for the final dentures. ln Australia, with all the fittings and adjustments and different appointments, the dentures alone would have taken six to eight weeks. I went back the next morning for the extractions and implants.The procedure went really well and was done in a couple of hours. I was taken to a VIP suite and was looked after by two nurses who stayed in the room with me the whole time. The hospital was so clean and beautiful and modern - it was fantastic. The next day I was back in the recovery apartment, in no
pain whatsoever. The whole package, including airfare, accommodation, the

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prosthodontist [a dentist who


specialises in tooth restorationl because I needed to have 25 teeth extracted and 12 implants. The full cost was quoted at 584,000. I

couldn't afford this, but I couldn't live with these disgusting teeth. So got online and found Global Health Travel.They went through all the options with me and gathered quotes from two dental clinics. After doing my own research, decided which one was right for
I

me. Within a couple of weeks I was on a plane to Bangkok. The dentist met me at the airport

and took me to Global Health Travel's recovery apartments, where their staff met me, gave me a mobile phone and settled me in. At the

dental work and hospital fees, cost 529,000. I went straight back to work when I got home and l'm perfectly fine. And the health benefits l've gained since having
my teeth out are amazingj' O