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Should I contact the hospital directly or use a Medical Tourism Facilitator?

The correct answer to this question will depend on your personal preference and how much hand-holding you require. Either way it is advisable to contact the hospital or clinic directly if only to gauge the quality of their responses and response time, which will probably give you a good indication as to the level of service and attention you will receive once you’ve arrived at the hospital or clinic.

Below is a summary of the process that goes on from the moment you first contact your international provider (please note that the below process is typical for medical tourism patients arranging a procedure directly with the hospital, as opposed to using a medical tourism facilitator or with an employer based medical tourism program):

Contact hospital

Usually by email, phone or a web form.

How soon should I expect a hospital/clinic to respond to me once I email or call them?

This will obviously vary from hospital to hospital, but 48 hours or less is a pretty normal response time for facilities that receive a large influx of international patients. If you have not received an answer within 48-72 hours, then try again, or think of calling the hospital. To make international calls look into using Skype which is an internet based phone service where international calls can be made for literally pennies per minute anywhere in the world.

A growing number of hospitals and clinics are incorporating 1-800 numbers, which makes it very easy for U.S and Canadian medical tourism patients to get in touch. A hard to contact hospital that does not respond quickly is usually a sign that, either international patients are not a high priority, or that the hospital’s current process for handling international patient enquiries is not up to snuff. Neither possibility is particularly reassuring for a medical tourism patient who is contemplating travel to an unknown destination for a serious surgical procedure. Which is why many international hospitals are now incorporating a department or office that focuses on catering to the needs of international patients.

Hospital responds by requesting additional information

In order to determine the real needs and related costs involved in your case, the hospital/clinic’s physicians will need to know more about your condition and medical history. The type of information you will be required to submit will vary depending on your procedure and your physician. However, at the very least expect to fill out a medical questionnaire of some sort that includes some of the following questions:

What are your age, height, and weight?

What type of surgery or treatment are you interested in, and the reason you wish to have this procedure?

Have you had previous surgery? And if so, what procedure(s) and on what date(s)?

How is your general health?

Please describe any chronic conditions you are or have suffered from in the past.

Are you allergic to any medication?

What medications do you presently take?

Do you use tobacco?

Do you drink alcohol?

Have you seen a psychologist in the last five years?

It is in the best interest of your wellbeing and success of your procedure that you answer these questions as truthfully as possible. Providing incorrect information about your weight, withholding details about medication you are taking, or not mentioning that you suffer from hypertension, may necessitate postponing your surgery, or at the very least may lead to a more expensive procedure. Not good news if you are on a budget or have spent the last eighteen hours on a transatlantic flight trying to reach your surgery destination.

Depending on your procedure, you may also be asked to send photos (usually when cosmetic surgery or plastic surgery is involved) and/or provide medical reports concerning your condition. Most often these include blood tests, electrocardiogram reports, and diagnostic images/reports such as X-rays, CT scans and MRI’s. In certain instances you may also be required to send in pathology reports and your primary physician’s treatment plan.

A concern that logically follows is:

Will my medical records be secure?

That is a good question and one that should be asked of any hospital, clinic or doctor that has requested your medical information. Specifically you should ask what protocol or safety measures are in place to protect the privacy of your medical information while it is in transit over the internet, as well as when it arrives at the hospital.

Hospital and medical staff will review your medical information

This is not always a one step process. There may be some back and forth between you and your hospital contact while all the necessary information is gathered and the medical staff confirms the procedure (and price) or recommends another procedure. This is a good time to ask questions and perhaps even schedule a conference call with your doctor.

Next you will receive a price estimate for your surgery and related services

The price estimate will usually specify what the procedure includes and does not include, as well as any clauses or restrictions. Make sure you read the fine print and understand what is and what is not covered by the procedure (airfare, transportation, lodging?). At this time the hospital may also send you additional information about your procedure and the services available to international patients.

Confirm procedure and discuss potential travel dates

Once you feel comfortable with the price and details of the surgery, it is time to officially confirm a procedure date. Payment options may also be discussed at this time.

Payment for procedure

The payment process varies from hospital to hospital, but expect to pay a down payment of anywhere from ten to fifty percent of your procedure package. This usually takes the form of a credit card transaction or wire transfer. Make sure the hospital sends you a receipt once payment has been made. Full payment is usually made once you have arrived at the hospital. However, payment policies vary, so please contact your international medical provider for details.

Formal itinerary

At this point the hospital or clinic may submit to you a formal itinerary. This may take the form of a detailed day by day description of the surgical process including hotel information and pick-up time, or may just briefly describe the time and location of your pre-operative exams and surgery.

You may also wonder how long it will take for your procedure to be confirmed. This depends on several factors including the type of procedure, how quickly you provide information, your doctor’s schedule, and hospital availability. Expect a couple weeks on average, however, some international hospitals will schedule medical tourism patients in a matter of days when necessary. Remember, many international hospitals are intentionally trying to attract foreign patients and will therefore likely have a way to fast track your procedure.

After weeks or even months of research your mind is finally made up. You’ve selected an international hospital that you feel comfortable with, and you are now ready to go into the actual trip planning stage. An obvious first question is:

Will my insurance cover this? Most elective procedures such as cosmetic surgery, plastic surgery and weight loss surgery will not be covered by your insurance carrier. For other procedures, it’s best to check directly with your insurance carrier. Some international hospitals can do this for you if you provide them with your health insurance policy information. Additionally, some health insurance carriers are now offering a medical tourism program that will allow you to choose from various destinations for your procedure.