Whenever I discuss plans for a medical tourism business with friends and colleagues, I am always cautioned that Americans are leery of dealing with foreigners for medical care. Getting over that barrier will be a big hurdle for any business, they say (while usually adding that they themselves realize that many non-US physicians are equally or better trained than their US counterparts).
On the other hand Americans are already treated by foreign doctors all the time. Primary care physicians are increasingly drawn from the ranks of foreign physicians, according to a government report release this week, as reported by Newsday:
Fewer American doctors are focusing on primary care, but the decline is being covered by physicians from other countries. The [Government] Accountability Office said Tuesday that as of 2006 there were 22,146 American doctors in residency programs in the United States specializing in primary care.
That was down from 23,801 in 1995, the research arm of Congress told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
Overall growth in the number of primary-care physicians “has been totally due to the number of international medical students training in America,” [Senator Bernie] Sanders said. “We are increasingly dependent on international medical school graduates to meet our needs. Currently, one in four new physicians in the U.S. is an international medical graduate.”
In its report on primary-care providers, GAO said the number of international medical graduates training in primary care had grown from 13,025 in 1995 to 15,565 in 2006.
Rather than complaining about foreign physicians or merely tolerating them, we’d better start making life in the US more attractive for them. With anti-immigrant sentiment growing and better opportunities back home, foreign physicians may return to their home countries or may not bother coming to the US in the first place. Throw medical tourism and telemedicine into the mix and we may see some interesting shifts in care patterns.February 13, 2008