Improving quality and bargain prices are luring U.S. patients to developing countries for increasingly sophisticated procedures. Last year, 750,000 Americans traveled abroad for care, according to estimates by the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, a Washington-based research center that's part of the consulting firm Deloitte & Touche. Other analysts say the numbers are lower. But hardly anyone disputes that medical care, once a highly local business, is going global like never before. By 2010, Deloitte projects, 6 million consumers a year will venture outside the United States for medical treatment.
The idea of jetting off to India for heart surgery might strike some as a radical way to save money. But proponents say it's a logical outgrowth of the globalization that's reshaping the industry. Already, offshore firms handle Americans' medical records and read their X-rays. Top U.S. hospitals such as Johns Hopkins have established outposts abroad. Rising prosperity in many parts of the developing world is luring foreign-born, U.S.-educated doctors home to practice in modern hospitals catering to increasingly affluent consumers.
Nearly 200 institutions outside the U.S. have been certified by the Joint Commission International, an affiliate of the organization that accredits U.S. hospitals. Medical travel companies are springing up to link American patients with foreign providers eager to boost their profits. Add a rapidly aging U.S. population and a shrinking medical safety net, and the notion of Americans looking elsewhere for treatment no longer seems such a stretch.
Cutting-edge care can give overseas facilities an edge
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