Domestic medical tourism

The Wall Street Journal ran an article today (Uprooted: When Patients Seek Treatment Far From Home) on patients traveling for care within the United States. As hospitals publish more quality information patients are increasingly willing to make the trip. The example in the article is about a patient from Jacksonville, FL who traveled to Little Rock, AR when he found out the hospital there was the leader in treating multiple myeloma.

Going to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences would mean spending about half of the first year of treatment in a city my parents had never visited. My now-58-year-old father would have to abandon his real-estate business — and give up most of his income — for months at a time. My 57-year-old mother would need to take time away from her job as a teacher’s aide. There would also be the costs of plane tickets and hotel rooms.

But the statistics clinched it. While surfing the Internet one day after his diagnosis in February 2006, my father pulled up data showing that the median survival rate for multiple myeloma at his local medical center was about 33 months. Then he looked up the statistics from UAMS: about seven years. “I’ll take the four extra years,” my father, Gary, said later.

I think a lot of people will “take the four extra years” if they can, and this bodes well for medical travel on a domestic basis as well as internationally. I look forward to the day when well-insured patients insist on gaining access to the best hospitals in the world for their condition, whether down the street, or elsewhere in the US, Europe, Asia or Latin America. At a minimum it should keep everyone on their toes, thereby improving care even for patients who can’t or won’t travel.

October 9, 2007

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