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International Medical Professionals & Medical Tourism

So, you may ask, what is the experience and credentials of international physicians, and how do I know if they are truly qualified or even licensed?

We have all heard nightmare stories about patients treated by someone they perceived to be a medical professional, only to later find out – sometimes tragically, that the “doctor” was a quack.

Unfortunately, these types of situations can happen in your own backyard as well as half way across the world. Nevertheless, with medical tourism you have the obvious disadvantage of not being able to meet your physician or visit your chosen hospital before a decision to travel is made. This obvious handicap, however, can sometimes turn into an unexpected advantage, as it forces you to develop a critical eye and ask many more questions than you normally would if you were addressing your surgery locally (where in many cases you just assume your doctor is good).

There are many international physicians who are tops in their field, others who are very good, and then a few bad apples who tend to grab the headlines. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that just because a doctor practices outside the U.S he is a second class physician, far from it. Many countries have strict guidelines and training requirements every bit as rigorous as those found in first-world nations. Many of these physicians were educated in North American and European universities, practice in world-class hospitals, attend seminars and conferences all over the world, and, frankly, are every bit as professional as their first-world colleagues.

A good rule of thumb is to choose a physician who is on staff at an internationally accredited hospital. Accredited facilities will usually have stringent guidelines in place for accepting practicing doctors, making it likely that you are dealing with a reputable and licensed physician. Greater caution is required when approaching non-accredited hospitals and clinics, where less regulation and varying standards make it more difficult to ascertain a physician’s credentials.

The next step is to request a CV that details the doctor’s education, experience, licensing and preferably the number of procedures he or she has performed. Any reticence to comply on behalf of the doctor, hospital or clinic should be taken as a red flag.

Important Questions to Ask Your International Physician

At some point most people feel the need to talk with their chosen physician. This is highly recommended and will get you past the dry professional qualifications to the all important gut factor: “Do I feel comfortable with this doctor”? Do I relate to him or her well, and does he or she understand my concerns? Conference calls or even video conference calls (via web cam) can easily be arranged by most international hospitals, so please don’t skip this vital opportunity to ask important questions and gauge your instinct. Oftentimes this will be the turning point in whether you “go” with a certain doctor or not.

Below is a list of guideline questions that may be of assistance when first speaking to your international physician. By no means is it all inclusive.

  • Could you please describe your education and experience?
  • Are you licensed or certified in your country? What is the name of the governing body that issues licensing? Are you board certified in the U.S?
  • Do you speak English (if you are corresponding by email)?
  • Are your surgeries assisted? If so by whom and what are their credentials?
  • Do you specialize in certain procedures (more so than others)?
  • How many procedures do you perform a day?
  • What happens in case of a medical emergency (if something goes wrong)?
  • What is the typical follow up for your most commonly performed procedures and what do those include?
  • How will I get my care and medication when I’m discharged from the clinic/hospital?
  • Can you provide me with references of previous medical tourism patients of yours?
  • What happens if I have complications once I leave the country?

A common question, particularly for plastic surgery procedures, is: are you board certified? It is important to note that the term board certified does not always mean board certified in the U.S. – nor is this necessarily a bad thing. Many U.S medical associations require their members to be U.S residents or even citizens, making this requirement impractical for many international doctors. As each country has its own licensing regulations, doctors can sincerely say that they are board certified, while in reality what they mean is that they are board certified locally.

You should also not feel shy to ask the hospital or physician for referrals from previous medical tourism patients. Previous medical tourism patients are usually very happy to tell you their story, and will no doubt provide you with tips and valuable insight into the traveling abroad for surgery process.

At this point you should also be using the internet to research all you can about your chosen doctor. You may be able to find publications he or she has authored, comments from medical tourism patients, or other relevant information that will help you in your final decision.