For some people seeking medical treatment abroad can be a challenging process particularly if they are not well travelled. Such travellers will often look to a medical tourism facilitator or medical tourism travel agent to help them complete their travel and treatment arrangements.
So what exactly is a medical tourism facilitator and what service should they provide? Well in the main they should operate pretty much like a reputable travel agency does, sorting out visa’s, checking passports, booking flights, arranging hotels transportation and even side tours. However they should also serve as the link between the patient and the overseas medical provider they wish to use. So the facilitator’s needs to provide a package that effectively incorporates all travel arrangements, the medical treatment you are seeking, and essential guidance about the process as a bare minimum in the service they are offering.
Medical tourism facilitators come in various different guises ranging from a dedicated travel agent skilled at organising the logistics of travel right up to provider groups that have affiliations with medical providers in the patients home country. Over the last few years, thousands of these companies have appeared, particularly on the Internet, most sporting names that are easily associated with health tourism and travel. In effect these facilitators or agents act as a co-ordinator between the foreign medical facilities and the patient.
Given the large amount of providers you might well be forgiven for thinking that using a medical tourism facilitator is the only way of obtaining treatment in a foreign country. Well of course its not since in a country like Thailand for example, you can easily go direct to the health service provider and make your own arrangements. Booking flights and arranging accommodation is also easy to do yourself with many providers more than happy to arrange ground transport facilities.
It is perhaps therefore worth spending a moment or two considering the pros and cons of using a medical tourism facilitator.
The advantages of using a medical tourism facilitator would seem to be as follows:
- They are convenient, a medical supermarket of sorts, where you can find out all that you need to know about such things as providers, treatments and costs under one roof. Many facilitators also provide price comparisons between different countries and even providers within a country. They also take care of the logistics of such things as travel arrangements, accommodation and transport.
- Many facilitators have established relationships with international providers. Therefore they are able to provide feedback from former patients about their experiences.
- Medical tourism facilitators speak your own language, they are usually located in your own country too, which makes dealing with things like time zone differences and language barriers unnecessary. Discussing procedures and travel arrangements are also made easier.
Here are some apparent disadvantages of using a medical tourism facilitator:
- The quality of service offered by different medical tourism facilitators can vary considerably, since most are accessed through the Internet it is difficult to determine this before you become engaged in the process given that it is very easy to put together a professional looking web site.
- Many medical tourism facilitators are in effect agents for certain hospitals and destinations. You may therefore be directed to services and facilities that are not necessarily best for your particular needs.
- Clearly the work a facilitator does is not provided free and it may well be that you have to pay for their services in one way or another. While the hospital may pay the facilitator a commission it is unlikely that this fee will come from the providers bottom line.
- Communicating with overseas medical facilities can be difficult even if they speak your native language, using a third party could add to the problem where a miscommunication might be detrimental to the patient.
Given the above information and the huge amount of medical tourism facilitators available it seems to me that effectively choosing a suitable provider is not easy. I would also question whether it is really necessary even for the complete novice when visiting a country like Thailand, given the excellent international liaison departments at the hospitals and clinics I visited during my familiarisation trip on the Thailand Medical Tourism Blog Contest. Departments that in my experience are more than capable of providing the patient with all the necessary help in arranging their medical tourism trip.