The concept of medical tourism/travel – or traveling outside the country to receive care – has been around for a long time, but yes, I’d agree that the appeal is definitely growing.

While staying domestic remains the go-to for most pre-planned surgeries, many U.S.-based patients and health plans are finding that there can be huge savings for certain procedures performed outside the country. And that’s a serious draw. Look at our country’s current health care system and the high co-pays and deductibles that many employees simply can’t afford. Add that to the monopoly situations that often exist with health care services/facilities in the U.S. and the fact that they can push prices higher and limit the competition needed to keep costs more reasonable. It’s no wonder that people are looking elsewhere to find lower prices and are intrigued by medical tourism!

I recently had the opportunity to tour an independent hospital in Pamplona, Spain, that accepts medical tourists from around the world. I came away extremely impressed with not only the facility and its medical staff, but also with the quality of services provided. The hospital’s work in stem cell therapies is among the best in the world and this facility has been offering treatments for over 10 years now that aren’t yet available in the United States. The team’s progress with stem cell therapy in cancer, bariatric and Alzheimer’s Disease is exciting and very cost-effective. The hospital also has an impressive program in orthopedics that rivals any across the globe. On top of that, this facility’s patient infection rates are significantly lower than anywhere in the U.S.

Beyond service offerings, I think another part of the appeal is that health plans, self-funded especially, are supporting medical travel and building related programs into their benefit solution offerings. At Cypress, one of the solutions we offer through SkyMedicus is helping patients achieve 40-80% savings on surgeries. Not only do members appreciate the lower costs and high level of quality care, but they also welcome the help many of these programs provide in arranging the logistics for procedures as well as travel, lodging and other accommodations.

Here’s another thing: medical tourism isn’t just limited to surgical procedures anymore. We’re also seeing prescription programs that offer savings for traveling internationally to receive expensive medications. Cypress has another partnership in place with PriceMDs, for example, that can reduce pharmacy costs by up to 50% per patient with drugs for certain chronic conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease and multiple sclerosis. This program uses the same manufacturers/brand-name drugs that are dispensed in the U.S., but it makes them available in the Cayman Islands at a much more reasonable price as they are procured at European facilities.

With medical tourism, the real advantage to these programs is that patients are receiving outstanding care at a cost that’s exponentially lower than any options available domestically. Traveling internationally for care gives employers the chance to have patients take advantage of extremely high-quality services at a very affordable price – a situation that offers a “win” for all concerned. As more and more patients embrace the ability to shop around for care to get the best quality and price, medical tourism is getting much more attention and buy-in. If you’re an employer who offers any sort of self-funded plan, I’d suggest taking a look at the options if you haven’t already!

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