The Spoked Traveller | Medical Tourism
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Medical Tourism

Medical Tourism

Canadians frustrated with long wait times for surgical procedures are heading overseas.

Gina Littley didn’t get to see many sites in India on her last visit, but she came back with something more lasting: After a surgery that fused part of her vertebrae, the 69-year-old British Columbian returned home almost pain-free for the first time in over 20 years.

“(The surgery) has made it considerably better and I don’t take any medication now,” says Littley.

Littley is one of hundreds of Canadians going overseas for medical procedures that include hip and knee replacements, angioplasty and cosmetic surgery.

Currently the main reason for jetting across the ocean is to avoid long wait times for surgery in Canada. According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, the need for angioplasty and bypass surgeries jumped 51 per cent between 1997 and 2003, while the number of knee and hip replacements surged by 30 per cent.

With an aging baby boomer population, it’s predicted that the need for timely surgeries will only increase. If you’re considering packing your bags, there are some things you should know first.


What is medical tourism?
After decades of restrictive pain in her neck, Littley took action. After a doctor in the U.S. recommended surgery, she then sought a second opinion in Canada. But none of the neurosurgeons her GP contacted had time to see her.

With increasing pain, and more medications that were making her feel groggy and out-of-touch, she serendipitously discovered a posting for Surgical Tourism Canada, a medical tourism agency, while surfing a website about arthritis.

Medical tourism agencies are middlemen who connect foreign patients to overseas hospitals. Depending on the agency, these companies can arrange the surgery as well as accommodations, meals, and airport pickup.

“We do the legwork for them, contacting people and asking for notarized documents (what procedures the hospital can perform, doctors’ licenses),” says Alan Flowers, marketing and communications manager for Vancouver’s MedSolution.

It took Littley two months of research and asking questions to decide she wanted to go ahead with the trip. But two things clenched her decision: First, she was impressed with how the company, Surgical Tourism Canada, treated her. “I really felt looked after.” And second, she was encouraged after speaking with six North American patients who had had similar procedures overseas.

How it works
When it comes time to find an agency, make sure it has an official affiliation with the hospital where you’ll have your procedure.

To start the process, Littley authorized her medical records, including MRIs, and X-rays, to be sent to the foreign surgeon. After the Indian surgeon reviewed her file, she received an assessment of her condition, a biography of her surgeon revealing all of his accreditations and a preliminary quote on how much her procedure would cost.

Packed and ready to go, Littley spent a full month in India, which included time spent recovering.

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