Medical Tourism for Drug Rehab?

Medical Tourism for Drug Rehab?

With the increase in drug use and addiction worldwide and the recognition that overcoming addiction requires effective treatment, one growing trend is the number of people from other countries coming to the U.S. for drug rehab and mental health disorders.

What Is Medical Tourism?

Medical tourism occurs when people travel outside their borders to access healthcare services. According to Renee-Marie Stephano, president of the Medical Tourism Association, they do so for several reasons:

  • For better quality care – They may seek to travel from their country that has a low level of quality care to a country that has a high level of quality care.
  • For availability – People travel to get medical procedures or types of services not available at home, either because the treatments/procedures they want are more advanced or perhaps not yet approved, or they are looking for other types of treatments/therapies such as alternative, homeopathic, etc.
  • For greater affordability – The cost of high-quality care is an important consideration. While it may not be the overriding concern, it is taken into account when people are looking to receive medical treatment, including treatment for substance abuse and mental health disorders.
  • For access – People may choose to obtain medical treatment in another country, particularly the U.S., so that they can avoid long wait times or queues for available treatment or medical professionals.
  • For privacy – Many people, particularly those who seek mental health care, don’t want to get treatment locally, or they prefer to travel for treatment outside their area to safeguard their privacy, no matter what their medical treatment entails.

Where do people go? The perception of the facility is of great importance in the decision-making process. People want to go someplace safe, as long as the facility meets all or one of the above-mentioned reasons. A safe place is a key requirement if the patient is bringing family members along.

Climate, things to do, shopping, nightlife and other attractions are other reasons why people coming to the U.S. for medical tourism choose certain locales over others.

Clients coming to the U.S. for medical treatment from the Caribbean and Latin America traditionally choose Florida, Texas and California. The most popular medical tourism areas in the U.S. also center on the top facilities/medical professionals.

How Medical Tourism Has Grown

Availability of information on the Internet has made it easier to find out about treatment options and facilities. The old model of using a travel agent was limited to what information/sources the travel agent had. Now, there is virtually no restriction to the type of information available, and it’s available 24/7.

With the Internet, prospective medical tourism clients can find out all the information they need on medical conditions, treatments or procedures and medical professionals. The Internet has increased the demographic of the people seeking medical treatment as well as the geographic locations available for such treatment. They now have access to high quality care with better outcomes. They’re looking at better facilities, ones that have the best doctors, the best expertise or hospitals with the best outcomes.

Who Pays?

There are three ways to pay for medical treatment in other countries (and the U.S.). The first is government-pay. Many foreign governments have established relationships with other countries to pay for medical treatment. The second is insurance-pay, particularly global insurance. The insurance carriers that cover medical treatment abroad from the patient’s home country do so on the basis of facilities with the best outcomes and the most cost savings for the carrier.

The third is self-pay. If the patient is picking up the tab, they look for, among other things, direct flights to the country, word-of-mouth recommendations for the facility, and targeted marketing that conveys that the facility meets their needs.

In Stephano’s view, drug rehab facilities in the U.S. seeking to attract people from foreign countries need to increase their marketing and relationship efforts in those countries.

Tips for Travel to the U.S.

Stephano says that anyone contemplating travel to the U.S. for medical tourism needs to do their homework. “Know exactly the experience and medical expertise of the facility you’re looking at,” Stephano advises.

It’s also important to check your insurance policy in advance to make sure that overseas medical treatment is covered or that you will be reimbursed.

For mental health services being considered in the U.S., consumers need to be assured that the facility and staff are culturally competent. This is more than just language competency. A treatment professional may speak fluent Spanish, for example, but not be well-versed in the cultural differences of Spanish-speaking clientele.

Multicultural and bilingual mental health services offer that extra level of confidence that people looking for high-quality care at the best facilities require. Particularly with mental health concerns, fear and intimidation make it that much more challenging for someone from a foreign country to be receptive to treatment at a facility where staff do not understand their culture or concerns.

“For those with mental health issues,” Stephano observes, “the biggest challenge is cultural. Feelings, emotions and coming to terms with that take time.”

If a prospective client is coming from a culture where group speaking is not appropriate, they’re not going to feel comfortable in a treatment center that stresses group participation.

The best advice for medical tourists, according to Stephano, is to prepare for it:

  • Understand the culture of the country where you plan to obtain treatment.
  • Understand the scope, types and styles of treatment that you will be provided.
  • Be willing to fully participate in the treatment or choose a facility that provides options to address your concerns.

How Far in Advance to Begin Planning

It’s easier for people from other countries to obtain visas to come to the U.S. for medical treatment, particularly from larger institutions and facilities. But it may be a bit more challenging for those with mental health disorders. It could take as few as three days or as long as three months to obtain a visa, depending on country and various restrictions.

The transfer of medical records needs to be HIPPA-compliant. Do not send medical records via email, unless it’s encrypted. Medical records can also be faxed to the U.S. treatment facility.

“Don’t apply for a visa until your medical records have been received and you have been approved for a treatment program,” Stephano cautions.

Bottom line: In order to apply for a visa for medical tourism, have your treatment plan in place with a facility and know how long the treatment will last. You may need to get a letter from the treatment center stating that you have been approved as a client for the specified length of treatment time.

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