Carolina Journal News Reports
RALEIGH — More Americans are heading overseas for medical procedures, thanks to growth in what’s become known as “medical tourism.” Rajesh Rao, CEO of IndUShealth, recently discussed medical-related travel with Mitch Kokai for Carolina Journal Radio. (Click here to find a station near you or to learn about the weekly CJ Radio podcast.)
Kokai: For folks who have never heard of medical tourism and think, wait a minute, these are two concepts that don’t have much to do with each other — “medical” and “tourism” — what is that all about?
Rao: You are right in observing there is a bit of a misnomer there. Travelers get known as tourists, and I think this whole trend initially started when a few brave tourists said, “Why not explore getting medical treatments while I am overseas traveling around and touring?” The concept started there but has evolved into something that has become much more mature, and essentially we call it medical travel. It is, basically, people making the choice to travel overseas to obtain health care for a variety of reasons. Many times it might be because health care is not available to them, and they have to go put themselves into the environment where they can avail of this care in another country. So oftentimes it is driven by that choice. In the U.S., in many cases, it has started to get appeal with individuals that are looking at it from a standpoint of saving money because they don’t have enough to pay out of pocket for care that they might need locally. Also, now they’re beginning to realize that, in many cases, they can get extremely good quality care at a fraction of the cost.
Kokai: You mention that, and that I suspect would be the main reason that many people looking into this would want to do it, because if you are used to the way that we’ve practiced medicine in this country, you have a doctor you go to who is relatively local. This is quite a change if you are going to go overseas. Your company deals with India. That is quite a trip. How much cost savings are we talking about?
Rao: In most cases, the cost for getting treated in India is roughly between 20 percent and 30 percent of the cost here. That includes the cost of travel as well. So it is a sizeable savings when you talk about surgeries that might be orthopedic surgeries that might run you around $50,000 in the U.S. being done for roughly between $10,000 and $15,000 in India. Your savings are well north of $30,000 in that scenario.
Kokai: Now most people, I suspect, would say, “OK, this sounds great, especially if it is only going to cost me a quarter or less of what it would cost here. But how do I find out where I can go and trust the service and trust the doctors and know that they are not going to make things worse?” I imagine that is where IndUShealth comes in.
Rao: That’s right. What we have done is organized ourselves to provide a service to both individuals and companies that are looking to tap into this phenomenon and have access to care overseas, provide them a service that allows us to vet out the process for them, vet out the players and figure out how can they safely go and come back and reintegrate back into the system — because it is very important you look at this, look at the bigger picture of how all the pieces fit together. So we do work with local providers and providers overseas to make the whole process seamless for a patient.
Kokai: Let’s get back now to the cost. Some people are going to say, “OK, 20 percent to 25 percent of what it would cost me here. That means the care has to be worse. The conditions are questionable. The doctors aren’t well-trained.” From what I understand, none of those scenarios is true.
Rao: Correct. It might surprise most people to know — as they step into it and figure, well, you get what you pay for, that is the general feeling — but when you step into it and realize that you got a lot more than you bargained for, when you stepped in you got care that you just couldn’t have imagined with someone paying attention to your every need, following through with every aspect of your treatment before and after, and the level of interactivity with the system, with the patient, between the patient and the doctor and the caregivers is beyond expectation, beyond their imagination. Because when they contrast it to the small amounts of time that they are able to get with their doctors locally, they just feel overwhelmed that someone actually took time out to pay so much attention to their needs. They are coming back with wonderful stories to tell and excellent outcomes. In all cases they’ve come back feeling very good about themselves, and their doctors have evaluated them and said that they are doing as good, if not better, than their counterparts here. So it has been very positive.
Kokai: How does that happen? If the price is that much different but the care level is comparable, … how can that happen? Most people would just say it’s not possible. What’s the difference?
Rao: Great question. I mean, the question is, is it that much cheaper over there, or is it more expensive here? The answer is the latter. We have to ask the question: Why is it so much more expensive in the U.S.? Because if you look at most other parts of the world where private pay systems have emerged, it looks like there is enough motivation to keep the cost down and affordable to the populace where there is no third-party-payer system in place. So, you are paying for your own care, you are making judicious decisions on how you spend the money, and affordability factors right into that equation. Whereas in the U.S. we have, in many cases, systems that have matured and evolved with a third-party payer that plays the role of negotiating the rates and deciding what you can and cannot afford. At times like this, when we find things going out of control and our ability to pay being challenged, we find more and more people making the decision to say, let me break out of this box I am in and look elsewhere for care.
Kokai: You made an important point, and it is probably worth repeating — this idea that when the people who are getting the care are actually involved in paying the price, that the prices are probably more likely to be better for them.
Rao: Exactly right. That’s right.
Kokai: So if someone is interested in finding out about this process … someone who has an ailment and thinks, “Well, maybe this is right for me,” how do they go about finding information that would help them decide whether IndUShealth or some other group doing a similar type of arrangement would work for them?
Rao: In most cases, they would do research, and many people find us either through word of mouth or through online resources. The Web is a wonderful place in which there is a lot of information available. There are several players that have gotten into it and are looking to provide the types of services we do with different players in mind, with some near-shoring opportunities in Central and South America, others that work with Southeast Asian countries as well. What we help patients do is evaluate their situation and understand if what they are seeking can be done safely and affordably and effectively. We are very candid with patients. If things look like they might be not suitable for treatment overseas, we will let them know so that they can pursue other alternatives and not put anyone in risk.
Kokai: Do you foresee this type of market growing — growing for services overseas for people who would have to pay much more to get the same services here in the U.S.?
Rao: I do. I think it is a market that will continue to grow, but more importantly, it will also create an impetus for us to rethink how we price health care in the U.S. I think that is what I am more excited about — the fact that as it grows, we will look for ways to address some of our own needs and challenges within our borders as well. So I am pleased to be in the role of making that happen.