Will US patients accept foreign doctors? They already do

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

5 thoughts on “Will US patients accept foreign doctors? They already do”

  1. Dave, It’s not just Americans, but Europeans are also going offshore for medical needs, most often elective and this trend will only increase.

    As long as the facilities are clean, the doctors are well-trained (most in these medical tourism destinations are US trained docs!) and the price is right, people with the means, will use them. One need only look at what they are doing in Qatar (www.sidra.org/) to get some idea as to what is in store for the future. And note, that US Medical Universities are literally tripping over themselves to get a piece of the action.

  2. Take a walk around a hospital in Paris or London and you will quickly observe a large number of “non English” and “non French” doctors.

    @ John

    It seems to me that it is mostly UK patients that go off shore for elective surgeries and to cut waiting list time. In some cases this is sanctioned I believe by the NHS (way to go Michael Moore).

    Anecdotely it seems to me that there is a huge demand for off shore dentistry (even to former “eastern European” – now EU member states) because of the incredibly high costs (and low reimbursement) of dentistry procedures.

    Finally – and somewhat off topic – is the old bugbear of so called first world countries “stealing” (read economically attracting)so called third world doctors at the dramatic expense of their local populations.

  3. My family practice doctor and my GI doc both went to med school in Bangalore. My FP guy immediately came to the US to practice and the GI guy was an orthopedist in England before coming to the US and moving into GI. They are both highly respected and effective doctors, so I don’t see US discouraging foreign docs. As a matter of fact, I see many programs offering expanded international outreach to docs that make have a better practice experience here in the US.

  4. Not to belabor the point but here is an interesting article saying amongst other things that poaching healthcare workers from sub-Saharan Africa should be a crime. An exaggeration perhaps but the article has substance.

    “The researchers, a number of whom are from the B.C. Centre of Excellence for HIV-AIDS, say the practice of richer countries filling their health-care vacancies by recruiting in South Africa and other personnel-poor African countries is a violation of the human rights of the people of affected African nations.

    “There are more Malawian physicians in Manchester (England) than there are in Malawi,” said lead author Edward Mills, a medical epidemiologist with the B.C. Centre.””

    Here is the full story.

  5. Hi David,

    We, here at America’s Medical Solutions in Mumbai, India had a very interesting situation for one of our recent cases. A gastric by-pass patient’s surgery for a “Roux n Y” via laporascopy went without a hitch. After two days, something went wrong. The patient was vomiting and passing no stools. The doctor and his team are famous here in India, but he had never seen one of the most rare of complications — a tortioned bowel — or a part of the bowel at the Y section that became twisted. He and his team immediately decided to go back in, the situation was corrected and the patient has been back home enjoying a new lease on life. So, what you were talking about, that “many non-US physicians are equally or better trained than their US counterparts” is very much true. One of the reasons for this is the much greater practice they have where the patients potentially number into the billions instead of the millions.

    We appreciate your continuing to get the truth out.

    Don Wood, Director
    http://www.AmericasMedicalSolutions.com

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