Circling The Globe For Healthcare
Medical Tourism: The Change We Need?
By Sara Naderi
“My very first patient was from the US. She came to me after two botched breast augmentation surgeries; she was apprehensive and traumatised. I was under enormous pressure to help her find the best surgeon in Turkey.”
Tina Sheppard, owner and founder of Bloom Health Travel in Istanbul, Turkey, a full-service medical tourism company, didn’t know it at that time, but she was diving headfirst into an industry that, at its core, aims to disrupt health care as we know it.
For those not familiar with the term ‘medical tourism’, it’s when a patient travels to another country with the intent to receive medical care at a lower cost than can be obtained in their home country. Procedures range from hair transplants, eye surgery, dental care, IVF, cancer treatments, and everything in between. Companies like Bloom Health handle every aspect of a patient’s medical journey in Turkey. From medical and travel planning to city tours and concierge services, no detail is unaccounted for. In places like the United States, insurance deductibles alone can be crippling for the average family. For many patients, it makes more economic sense to purchase a plane ticket, pay for accommodation, and the cost of a surgery overseas as opposed to paying for the procedure in their home country.
Even with her extensive clinical background, Sheppard didn’t fully comprehend the dire need for alternative health care solutions.
“It wasn’t until I came to Istanbul and saw the possibilities firsthand, that I realised that there were better, more affordable, healthcare options out there.”
According to Sheppard, patients should always be presented with several options for comparison. Being in a foreign country, dealing with a health issue can be overwhelming for many patients, and leave them in a vulnerable position. Therefore, Sheppard or a team member is present during consultations, not just for a second pair of eyes and ears, but to ask the important questions that the patient may not know to ask. Patient comfort always comes first.
Sheppard’s patient was understandably nervous when it came to finding the right doctor. She needed to find someone who could simultaneously handle the patient's expectations and the botched breast revision. They consulted several surgeons before they found the doctor she was most comfortable with. The surgery not only exceeded her patient’s expectations but more importantly, she left the country smiling again.
Currently, about 40% of Sheppard's patient portfolio consists of medical tourists seeking corrective surgeries. This isn’t to say that healthcare isn’t good in patients' native countries, but it speaks to the limitations they face. Whether due to price, location, waiting period, skill or technology available, patients don’t want to be confined by choice. By contrast, clinics and hospitals in Turkey have virtually none of these restrictions.
There is often a misconception that medical tourists travel to countries like Turkey strictly for cheap elective surgeries. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Many patients are in dire need of help. For instance, cancer care and IVF are popular treatments simply because insurance companies don’t cover all the costs associated with treatment. “We see firsthand the power that affordable health care has on patients, and it’s transformative,” says Sheppard.
Medical Tourism facilitators like Bloom Health play a critical role in the healthcare process. They handle every detail of a patient's experience and are involved in transferring medical records, helping them obtain passports, managing travel logistics and staying involved in the patient's aftercare and rehabilitation.
Sheppard’s philosophy and approach has always been patient advocacy. “Whichever company you choose — and there are so many options to choose from — make sure you go with a medical tourism company that is transparent in quality, safety, and pricing. They need to be an advocate for you.”
Sheppard sees medical tourism only becoming more streamlined in the future. Big companies, like Amazon, are looking for health care alternatives and exploring options abroad. In places like the US, the health-care industry is ripe for disruption.
“With the cost of medical care internationally as much as 90% cheaper than the cost in the United States and Europe, medical tourism will be solving the financial burden for so many patients in the future. We are currently instrumental in alleviating this concern, but our goal is to also partner with healthcare insurance companies so they can implement medical tourism in their enrollment plans and give financial incentives for patients to travel internationally for medical care.”
Bloom Health is a full-service medical tourism facilitator serving North America, Europe, United Kingdom, Middle East, and beyond. Their aim is to promote transparency in quality, pricing and patient safety. For more information on Bloom Health visit, visit their website.