Does the thought of having hip surgery abroad sound like a great idea - one worth investigating further? Well you'll be in good company. More and more patients are flying away from NHS waiting lists and the high cost of private care in the UK to seek treament overseas.
But are the financial savings gained from low cost surgery abroad worth it?
"The concerns people have about overseas surgery are much the same as they have about private in the UK" said Keith Pollard of Treatment Abroad. The quality of care and the cost.
Although medical tourist agencies will be very willing to recommend an orthopaedic surgeon and a clinic to you, their choice will be heavily influenced by the clinics they regularly do business with. These may not be specialists in your procedure. As Keith, who himself underwent knee replacement surgery in the UK, continued "I didn't want any orthopaedic surgeon - I wanted a knee surgeon".
So how do you find a great hip surgeon?
The first port of call is going to be Google. A simple search on hip surgery abroad, or hip replacement surgery overseas will bring up advertisements and links to various clinics and surgeons websites.
Numerous studies of hip replacements have shown that one of the most important factors in achieving a successful outcome is the experience of the surgeon. It is essential that you don't feel embarrassed about asking him (and it normally is a him) as many questions as you need to.
Is he a specialist in your operation? How long has he been practicing. How many hip replacements did he perform last year? (A specialist should be doing at least 2-3 a week.) Ask him about any and all the concerns you have. What is his post-operative infection rate? How good are his clinical outcomes?
Surgeons should be willing to email copies of their qualifications and these should be checked with the regulatory body operating in their country. Its also a good idea to check the surgeon is still registered with that body. After all you don't want a fully qualified surgeon who's been expelled from membership.
Finally if the surgeon tells you he was trained in the UK you can check out his credentials with the General Medical Council.
It is a good idea to make a short list of 3 or 4 surgeons before turning your attention to the quality of the establishment. Bear in mind that many surgeons work in more than one hospital.
Having found out where your surgeon works Google up the hospital's website. Detailed information about the clinic or hospital, including reports from independent monitoring bodies, should be readily available on their site. If they're not ask yourself why.
If the facility is accredited with its national body that is another point in its favour; that should be listed as well. Better still, is accreditation with an independent, internationally recognised body such as the Joint Commission International (JCI). If this type of information is not listed then perhaps it is time to move on to the next one on your list.
Asking to speak to some former patients from the UK who have undergone similar surgery is recommended. Understandably the clinic is only likely to pass you onto people who have had successful operations but you can still learn a lot talking to them about the surgeon and the hospital and what to expect.
You're probably wondering why I haven't mentioned which country as yet and the reason is that finding the right surgeon and the right hospital are your priorities.
Factors you will want to consider when choosing a country is the ease of travel, language and accommodation costs for your companion. Do not base your decision on whether to have surgery in a country because you've always fancied a holiday there!
In any good standard clinic that caters for people having hip surgery abroad English will be spoken by all key staff. Clinics that don't employ people with good English soon lose referrals.
Ease of travel is more important for the return trip then the outbound one and a direct flight is to be preferred. If you plan to stay on after the surgery for rehabilitation or a holiday then you can consider a longer flight time.
Places that have economically priced surgery usually have reasonable priced accommodation nearby and if you plan to stay on after surgery it might be worth looking into renting an apartment rather than staying in an hotel.
By now you will have a short list of good surgeons working in great hospitals and its time to think about how much it will all cost and how to pay for it.
There is no doubt that having hip surgery abroad can save you a substantial sum of money compared with self funding private care in the UK. Treatment Abroad's 2008 global survey of hip replacement surgery compared prices to that of the UK average - £8,000. The cheapest overseas equivalent were in Bulgaria, Tunisia and Poland all at around £3,000. A massive saving indeed.
Of course that's not the end of the story as the prices quoted only include hospital and doctor's charges. You will need to budget for travel, hotel stays and for someone to travel with you. Again Keith emphasises the need to ask questions. "Be clear about how long the hospital expects you to stay in-country, how much rehabilitation is included in the fee and how soon it would be safe to fly home."
To save themselves from unexpected bills many people are opting for an all inclusive package. These often have a holiday tacked on and what better way to recuperate and stay near the hospital in those crucial first weeks post-surgery. It may even be cheaper for you to continue having post-operative physiotherapy overseas then returning to the UK and paying privately for it.
The next item on your check list will be funding. It is unlikely that your private health insurance will pay for hip surgery abroad but that probably won't matter. After all if you have private health insurance you will probably opt to have the surgery done in the UK.
In some limited circumstances the NHS will pay for treatment in Europe. More information can be obtained from your local primary care trust but don't expect a lot of co-operation. I will be writing more about how to obtain NHS funding in a few weeks.
The final option is private funding, which is the norm.
Medical insurance is another necessity. The agreement you sign with the providing hospital will include some sort of guarantee. "Most say something like we'll fix anything that goes wrong within 15-30 days post-op" said Keith Pollard "that's much the same as you'd find in the UK" and of course that's a good reason to stay close to the hospital for the first weeks post-op.
But what happens if a problem develops later? That is where specialist insurance providers such All Clear Travel and P J Hayman come in.
There is no doubt that a substantial saving can be made when compared with the cost of going private uninsured in the UK.
In terms of outcomes Intuition's 2008 survey reported that 74% of people undergoing treatment abroad were very satisfied with the outcome.
The standards in overseas hospitals are often as good as anything you will find in the UK or USA and surgeons have often be trained here.
Along with other forms of medical tourism having hip surgery abroad is a fast growing market and one that is certainly worth investigating. 200x 193
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