How Medical Tourism Really Works

Success stories are regular features of The Motley Fool's Rule Your Retirement newsletter service, where we share profiles of people who have become financially independent. One of the most remarkable stories we've come across is that of Akaisha and Billy Kaderli, who retired two decades ago at the age of 38 and began traveling the world. In this article, Billy talks about a recent firsthand experience with medical facilities outside the U.S.

As an adult, I have been in the hospital overnight on five occasions for various health issues -- four times in the U.S. in different facilities and states, and once now in Guatemala. In three of those four times in the U.S. I experienced negative outcomes. That's 75% of my personal experiences with U.S. hospital care that have been unfavorable.

The problems have included the incorrect construction of a cast covering a broken wrist, little or no follow-up from doctors once a procedure was completed -- leaving me confused, concerned, and on my own to figure things out -- and a four-night mega-bucks stay complete with a misdiagnosis.

My confidence in the U.S. system is shaken.

A Guatemalan comparison
Recently I was admitted into Centro Medico, a private hospital in Guatemala City, for major abdominal pain and related issues. My local doctor in Panajachel recommended that I go to the hospital for better analysis and treatment of my condition after she examined me twice -- once on a late-night call to my hotel room ($19). Doctora Zulma arranged transportation and called the hospital ahead of time so that my admission was expected and things would run smoothly.

After a tortuous, twisting, mountainous road trip at midnight, I arrived at the emergency room at 3 a.m. Once there, the quality of care was top notch and professional. Due to my condition, a specialist was called in. He examined me, and I had an X-ray taken. On his recommendation, by 5 a.m. I was admitted into a hospital room where I stayed two nights. During this time I saw this internal medicine specialist on six occasions, was administered intravenous medications, and had another X-ray, a C.T. scan, and several blood draws. Dr. Flores spoke English and was very thorough in answering my every question, explaining his findings and treatment. In the typical respectful Latin manner, he shook my hand each time he entered or left my room.

Resort care?
The nurses took time to explain to me what I.V. drip they were administering and to make sure I was comfortable. If I needed something, I asked, and my request was quickly fulfilled. During this time, several other doctors came in to check on me to be sure I was not in pain and ask whether I had any questions. Honestly, I felt like I was being taken care of in an upscale resort.

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My semi-private room had a flat-screen TV and Wi-Fi connectivity, and it was cleaned two to three times per day. Fresh towels and hospital garb were given to me daily, my linens were changed each morning, and I was offered a list of choices for meal periods. Each time someone entered my room, he or she called me by name.

Upon my release from hospital care, Dr. Flores gave me both his personal cell and his email address so that I could contact him in 10 days with an update on my condition.

Hospitality agents then came in to help me obtain my medical bill (which I received in one hour); delivered my lab results, X-rays, and CT scan for me to take home; and called a taxi to take me back to Panajachel. One agent had me take a survey regarding my care: On a scale of zero to 10, how would I rate my overall stay? My doctor? The nurses? The radiology department? The attendants? The room's cleanliness? The quality of food? I was also asked for any additional comments.

Justified or unjustified
We hear many concerns from our readers about being sick and having treatment in foreign countries, wondering what horrors they may face. But based on my personal experiences, my fears are more about being in, rather than outside, the U.S. to receive medical care.

Room cost breakdown
The costs of this medical adventure were as follows (translated to dollars):

  • Room (two nights): $150
  • Medicines and devices: $472
  • Laboratory: $142
  • Radiology (two X-rays and abdominal C.T. scan): $669
  • Extraordinary services: $7
  • Hospitality services: $19
  • Internal medicine doctor: $150

Total bill: $1,609

The U.S. has the best care in the world?
A quick comparison of prices in the U.S. showed that the average cost of an abdominal C.T. scan is $4,700 alone. Same machine, same technology. Do you believe that the one in the States is seven times better?

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Centro Medico's website advertises a friendly environment and human, personal care -- and I can vouch for that. The medical attendants shook my hand, and the nurses gave me a hug when I left!

Between the ridiculous expense and the poor care I received in the States, using medical tourism is a no-brainer for me.

Click here for information on travel insurance and foreign insurance and here for information on medical tourism.

At the time this article was published Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance and world travel. With the wealth of information they share on their popular website, RetireEarlyLifestyle.com, they have been helping people achieve their own retirement dreams since 1991. You can order their latest book, Your Retirement Dream IS Possible, here.

Copyright © 1995 - 2012 The Motley Fool, LLC. All rights reserved. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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Smile Planners

As the cost of care in the USA for medical and dental rises year after year, and more people find themselves uninsured or underinsured - especially as the US economy struggles to gain traction - the medical and dental tourism industries will continue to grow. Look at full reconstruction with dental implants for example. All new teeth on 4 dental implants can cost up to 25,000 USD per jaw. For complete reconstruction, the cost can exceed 50K. With all the other demands on the average person's yearly budget, 50K for new teeth in the USA is often simply out of reach for most people with dentures or facing life with dentures. This is why people opt to go out the the country for dental (in this case) and medical in other cases.

Matt Kelleher
Smile Planners Dental Holidays
smileplanners.com

February 26 2012 at 11:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Smile Planners

As the cost of care in the USA for medical and dental rises year after year, and more people find themselves uninsured or underinsured - especially as the US economy struggles to gain traction - the medical and dental tourism industries will continue to grow. Look at full reconstruction with dental implants for example. All new teeth on 4 dental implants can cost up to 25,000 USD per jaw. For complete reconstruction, the cost can exceed 50K. With all the other demands on the average person's yearly budget, 50K for new teeth in the USA is often simply out of reach for most people with dentures or facing life with dentures. This is why people opt to go out the the country for dental (in this case) and medical in other cases.

Matt Kelleher
Smile Planners Dental Holidays
http://smileplanners.com

February 26 2012 at 11:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
RetireEarlyLifestyle

We paid straight up cash for these services. This question and more were answered on this page: retireearlylifestyle.com/med_tour_followup dot htm

February 26 2012 at 9:02 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Laura Nadeau Richard

u pay straight cash for these services or did you have some sort of insurance that covered any or part of it.

February 24 2012 at 12:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply