Thumbing through (figuratively speaking, since I was reading from a Kindle) Dr. John D. Kasarda and Greg Lindsay’s Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next, was an excellent way to start my Saturday morning. In particular, the section entitled “Medical Leave” in which the authors engage Ruben Toral, Medeguide CEO, rang home. Laying out a vision of healthcare’s next enduring iteration, the precepts of globalization and connectivity, to which healthcare has traditionally been presumed to be an exception, are embraced as the necessary way forward. In this scenario, the insured and uninsured alike, travel in high volume to various destinations for a full array of procedures as the barrier of proximity becomes a secondary consideration and any disparity in baseline quality metrics is minimized to almost an afterthought. This is a great vision and one that our team at HuliHealth shares; nevertheless, there are four necessary precursors to the realization of this tremendous expansion of medical travel: (1) widespread adoption amongst insurers, (2) development of supporting legal infrastructure, (3) dramatic improvements in efficiency, and (4) greater transparency. The first two areas, regarding insurers and legal framework will take time but are moving in the right direction. An ongoing challenge to those engaging in medical travel has been the inability for legal recourse, but countries are taking steps to create more security here by establishing health arbitration entities. As recounted by IMTJ (International Medical Travel Journal), South Korea provides a recent example, with their announcement of a “mutual aid association” to be established in 2012. This fund will benefit inbound medical travelers who suffer malpractice, signaling their commitment to building the necessary support networks.
The latter two issues of efficiency and transparency are not currently being addressed by the medical travel industry at large and antiquated methods of finding treatment abroad are allowed to subsist. The third-party brokering and misaligned incentives of traditional medical tourism facilitators are the would-be cripplers to the young legs of this vision of global healthcare and people finding international treatment solutions. While we see an increasing number of people, perusing their menu of options and electing to go abroad to meet their healthcare needs, many are reviewing the menu of options and electing to delay treatment. Over the last decade, the number of people in the US who delay necessary medical treatment has steadily increased. According to the CDC National Center for Health Statistics report, both the 18-44 and 45-64 age categories had a total of 15.1% (insured and uninsured) delaying treatment in 2009, an 11% and 11.8% increase, respectively, year-over-year. This immediately highlights a problem with the available options and presents a great opportunity to drive improvements in these areas.
by Ellery Bledsoe