Special Report: Medical Tourism

(KYTX) - If it meant saving thousands of dollars, would you travel out of the United States for medical treatment?

If you answered yes, you'd be joining the millions of Americans who do it every year.

"My name is Paul Hambleton and I'm from Tyler Texas."

From his hospital bed in Mexico, Paul Hambleton talks about the minor knee surgery he's about to undergo.

"The price for me to come here is half the price of what it would have cost in the United States, if I was paying cash in the United States," said Paul.

That's why the East Texas business owner made the decision to travel 600 miles out of the country, in 2008.

Four years later, Paul's knee is doing just fine. We caught up with him at the Cascades Country Club after a round of golf.

"It's great. I played 27 holes and walked 9," said Paul.

Paul's a big believer of what's known as "medical tourism". He says his trip to Northern Mexico was even better than he expected.

"I wasn't treated like a King, I wasn't treated like a millionaire, but I was treated like a billionaire," said Paul.

Paul's surgery was performed at the Christus Muguerza High Speciality Hospital.

The hospital is owned by a Dallas-based company and accredited by Joint Commission International, one of the top organizations for health care standards around the world.

"My surgeon graduated in the top 2 percent from Baylor and did his residence at St. Joseph's in Houston and UCLA Orthopedic. My Anesthesiologist was a graduate of the University of Texas," said Paul.

Paul says his surgery, including airfare and hotel, was around $6,000.

He says it would have cost him anywhere from $15 to $30,000 in the United States.

"I had a private room, paneled mahogany walls, fresh cut flowers, wet bar, a plasma 42-inch TV, oversized bed and my own personal nurse," explained Paul.

Rebecca Storms showed us pictures of her private room in Juarez, Mexico. She traveled there for weight loss surgery.

"I think it was nicer than some of the hospitals around here," said Storms.

The 34-year-old knew she had to do something after her doctor told her to lose weight.  She looked at the prices of weight loss surgery in the United States. 

"It felt hopeless. It really did. Until I found this one place," said Storms

After searching the Internet, Rebecca traveled to the Star Medica Hospital in Juarez.

She admits she was a little scared, at first.

"It was kind of scary thinking about going to Mexico. I'm going to let these foreign people cut into me and I don't understand what they're speaking?" said Storms.

Rebecca paid $3.500 to have the surgery. She says it would have cost triple that, to have the same surgery done here.

"At least $10,000," said Rebecca.

Rebecca and Paul may have traveled outside the country to have surgery at a cheaper price, but some people stay in the country, traveling state to state to have surgery. Some people even come to our hospitals in Tyler to get a better deal.

"In that situation, it's worth the hassle to move your family or go to another area to find another physician to do what you want," said Dr. Neelan Doolabh.

Dr. Neelan Doolabh with Trinity Mother Frances has treated patients from other states, like North Carolina.

"The main benefit is that you get a service that is not provided in your area. That could be a less invasive option. Could be an option that allows you to return to work earlier," explained Dr. Doolabh.

Dr. Doolabh says there's nothing wrong with traveling to find the medical care you want and need.

Just be sure to do your homework, first.

 "If you have a complication that requires dialysis or prolong stay or you have a stroke after surgery...you could be away from home longer than you expected," warned Dr. Doolabh.

Luckily, Paul and Rebecca had no complications. Just more money left, in the bank, when it was over.

So why are the surgeries cheaper in other countries? The cost of living and doctors salaries are a lot lower than they are here in the United States.

But, it's estimated that U.S. doctors and hospitals will lose $373 billion dollars, to medical tourism, in the next decade.

Most of that will come from elective surgeries, which U.S. hospitals depend on for a good share of their profits.

For more information on Medical Tourism, click here


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