Thursday, November 02, 2006

Globalization + Health Care Crisis = Medical Tourism

An interesting article came "across the wire" today about outsourcing some medical procedures globally. The gist of the article is that, considering factors such as the 46 million uninsured Americans, options such as getting medical procedures performed overseas are starting to look better and better.

The article talks about the positives and negatives (e.g., risk) of medical tourism. It goes on to mention the tale of a 60 year old Oklahoma woman who needed a hip replacement ($40,000 in the states) for which her employer (Coldwell banker) supported her in selecting an alternative option: surgery in India. According to the article:

"In addition to saving thousands — the three-week trip totaled about $12,000, including the surgery, travel and lodging for two and a tour of the Taj Mahal — she also underwent a new technique just approved this year in the U.S."

There seems to be more and more reporting on this subject. This article follows a recent article in Business 2.0 about the same topic. This article affirms that, "This year alone, upwards of 500,000 Americans are expected to travel overseas to get their bodies fixed, at prices 30 to 80 percent less than at home."

According to testimony given before the senate in June of this year, the savings for procedures performed in countries such as India can be substantial. For instance, heart bypass surgery costing between $55,000 and $86,000 in the U.S. would approximately $6,000 in India. Obviously, there are risk issues that need to be considered, but the aforementioned Oklahoma woman's comments are noteworthy,
"It's either that, or do it in the States for $28,000 to $40,000," she said. In the U.S. do you not sign forms? They're not responsible. The risk of it didn't really weigh on me."

All of this really, makes one stop and consider where this could all go. What this tells me is that the players within the current U.S. health care system (e.g., hospitals, doctors, etc.) drag their feet (in addressing the health care crisis) at their own peril.

There are a lot of issues to consider with respect to medical tourism and there is no shortage of websites and blogs that address these such as:

Surber's Old Columns
Global Surgical Solutions Blog

What's your take on this?

Getting up to speed on health care reform

Dr. Mike Magee has an excellent blog on his Health Politics website where he ably discusses topics related to the current and future U.S. health care system. He also has a series of podcasts which are extremely well done and informative.

For instance, one of these discussed the history of our health care system and how it came to be mostly employer funded. Nevertheless, I want to mention the one entitled "Building Tomorrow's Health Care" which touches on the coming transformation of the U.S. National Health Care system. Dr. Magee specifies two characteristics of the coming transformation, mentioning that it will be:

1) Home Centered - Educational Empowerment and behavior modification.
2) Influenced by Information Technology - communication between patients and caregivers.

What's interesting according to Dr. Magee is that the typical power players (e.g., insurance companies, hospitals, etc.) are not calling all the shots. Non-traditional players could play a very strong role in the future. These include:

1) Technology Firms - Intel, Phillips
2) Banks - Offering Health Savings Accounts (HSA)
3) Governmental municipalities - San Francisco, Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston

Hope you tune into this website, podcast, blog and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Public Health: The impact of social networks

Dr. Tom Valente is doing some interesting work investigating the effect of social networks in influencing behavior from a Public Health perspective. This relates to the study of doctor behavior when prescribing treatments (heavy influence from peers) as well as patient behavior. I was listening to some interesting podcasts from the University of Washington School of Public Heatlh.

Thomas Valente is Associate Professor and Director of the MPH Program, Preventive Medicine, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California. In his talk, he touched on collaborative diffusion of behavior and the key influencing factors. What I really liked was his introduction on the topic of social networks.

For instance, one hears much about social networks related to the Internet and sites such as MySpace and Facebook. Nevertheless, Tom makes an excellent point that the study of social networks dates back many decades.

Tom talked about the fact that, in order to promote change, social networks and, what he calls “collaborative diffusion,” are of paramount importance. What makes this so interesting within today’s context is that today’s Internet technologies (e.g., collaborative networks) can pretty much turbo-charge the exact factors which Tom highlighted as key to promote a more relationship-based healthcare and wellness system.

You can download the podcast by right clicking here and selecting to “save target” to your hard drive. You can then listen to this with your computer or your portable MP3 player.

The University of Washington has an excellent series of podcasts listed here.