Category: Medical tourism

Traveling to take care of back pain (or carpal tunnel) part 2

Yesterday I wrote about chiropractic and ART in New York. When we returned to Korea, we looked into getting more chiropractic but we didn’t find anyone certified in ART (though one doctor said he was and simply didn’t have enough ART patients to be listed on the official site – not sure if I believe that).

Anyhow, we probably will end up going to a chiropractor soon but we wanted to try something different and compare so we ended up going to Dr. Raimund Royer (a rare Austrian practicing Oriental medicine) at Jaesng for chuna and acupuncture. I’m told that Chuna is an old Chinese traditional thing. To me it’s like a subdued version of chiropractics. They twist your neck and back a little bit but not much and you only hear a few (if any) bones cracking.

On our first visit, the doctor recommended an MRI and diganosed my wife with some degenerate discs. She’s been getting treatment for that while I’m getting treatment for various aches and pains, basically whatever feels sore or stiff that day.

At first, I wanted more from the chuna – I felt like lots of stuff would start popping if the doctor would only push a little harder. Now, after 8 visits I think, I’m pretty used to it and like it just fine (though I do plan to go back to chiropractics soon for a comparison). MY wife’s back is in pretty good shape so the chuna plus acupuncture seems to be as effective as the chiropractic care and ART was.

For me, this is the best acupuncture I’ve had. I get herbal acupuncture while my wife gets bee venom (an anti-inflammatory) acupuncture. In my case they stick some herbal stuff in there before doing the normal acupuncture and I’ve felt better 7/8 times which is better than I’ve done with normal acupuncture. As I mentioned, my wife is doing well so the bee venom stuff must be helping her back.

My wife also gets treated for her carpal tunnel but the bee venom leaves her wrist pretty itchy (her back doesn’t get as itchy) and she’s not convinced it’s making a big difference. She felt a small improvement in the beginning but now she isn’t so sure.

And actually, the acupuncture may be saving me from getting another surgery for an infected sweat gland (at least that’s what I think it is this time). The last two times I’ve gotten acupuncture in the swollen area and it hurts quite a bit but it beats going to the hospital for surgery so it’s worth a try. So far the swelling has decreased and the area is no longer painful to touch so I am encouraged.

In the end, I recommend chuna, herbal acupuncture, and all that good stuff. I know most of you don’t live in Seoul but I think they have a branch in LA and here in Seoul they do take medical tourists and my wife happens to be a tour guide so if you wanted to come to Seoul and try out chuna we could try to work something out.

Traveling to deal with back pain or carpal tunnel

A while back I mentioned my desire to try ART, active release technique. Last winter while we were in New York my wife and I gave it a try. We went to Dr. Stuart Weitzman for both chiropractic care and ART.

When we arrived in America my wife was in trouble because her back was killing her. She had trouble getting out of the car, she couldn’t stand straight, etc. After arriving we stopped off at my aunt’s house where she, my dad, and my wife talked about their backs. My wife thought she was too young to be so involved in the conversation.

The next day, we went for chiropractic and ART. The initial visit was about 30 -40 minutes each and cost $210 each if I remember correctly. He looked at our x-rays, did some cool back muscle activation scan, and of course did the chiropractic adjustments and ART. My wife was vastly improved after that first visit – it was really impressive. She could get out of the car no problem, stand up straight, all that good stuff.

We went got treated 3 more times over the next couple weeks and everything was great. Each treatment was $85 each maybe. That was about 10 minutes of chiropractic and 5 minutes of ART or around there. Then the day before we left something happened and my wife was back to square one.

We went to the doctor the morning of our flight to Istanbul to see if he could patch things up like he had when we first arrived. He spent 20 minutes or more trying to work things out and while there was some improvement it wasn’t as significant as before.

My wife’s back ended up slowing us down in Istanbul but not too much and she spent a lot of time stretching it out (as best she could anyway) so that it wouldn’t interfere too much with our sightseeing.

In the end, do I recommend ART and chiropractic? I think it’s worth a try if you have back problems, carpal tunnel, or other soft tissue problems (ART is supposed to be good for most soft tissue things but not everyone who does ART has been trained in every aspect of it). The ART inventor seemed to say a lot of people would quickly find a permanent fix and while that wasn’t the case with my wife’s back, there certainly was improvement (until the last day anyway).

Next time I’ll be discussing a very different but also seemingly effective way to treat back problems (and possibly carpal tunnel and other things).

Medicaid cutbacks may lead to more medical tourism

I was reading this article on Medicaid cutbacks when I noticed this part:

In Arizona, lawmakers stopped paying for some kinds of transplants, including livers for people with hepatitis C. When the cuts took effect Oct. 1, Medicaid patient Francisco Felix, who needs a liver, suddenly had to raise $500,000 to get a transplant.

The 32-year-old’s case took a dramatic turn in November when a friend’s wife died, and her liver became available. Felix was prepped for surgery in hopes financial donations would come in. When the money didn’t materialize, the liver went to someone else, and Felix went home. His doctor told him he has a year before he’ll be too sick for a transplant.

“They are taking away his opportunity to live,” said his wife, Flor Felix. “It’s impossible for us or any family to get that much money.” The family is collecting donations through a website and plans a yard sale this weekend, she said.

My first thought was, “Have they never heard of medical tourism?”

Now things are complicated with transplants, and maybe medical travel isn’t normally viable when it comes to transplants. I’m not pretending to know but I have to wonder if they investigated the possibility. I know it is possible at least some of the time. This guy went to India because $330,000 in America in 2007 was more than he could afford. He went to India and they did liver transplant surgery on him and his sister (she was the living donor) for $60,000:

I recently wrote about proton therapy and other things in Korea where you pay about half what you would in the US and I’m reminded of an old post that says:

In Canada medical tourism has stirred some controversy: there’s a company that arranges medical tourism visits in Pakistan and India. The company can “arrange a kidney transplant from a live donor for about $32,000 US.” The controversy, of course, comes from the “exploitation of the individuals in the Third World.” The counter argument is that one life is saved (the wealthier medical tourist) and another life is improved (the person selling their kidney escapes abject poverty).

Unfortunately the link to the news article on that controversy no longer works.

Comments on medical travel are welcome. Politics are not.

Medical Tourism in Korea: IVF for fertility, proton therapy for prostate cancer

So I was just reading about the increase in medical tourism in Korea. In 2008, 27,480 patients came from abroad. In 2009 it was 60,201. More patients came from the US than any other country:

USA = 13,976

Japan = 12,997

China = 4,725

Russia = 1,758

Canada = 984

The article specifically mentions a Russian coming for IVF treatment who succeeded in getting pregnant and an American who came for proton therapy that put his prostate cancer into remission. That proton therapy comes with an $80,000 price tag in America but cost half as much in Korea. The article did not mention plastic surgery but that’s a huge industry here in Korea so I’m sure that must be part of Korea’s medical tourism plan.

Korea has some ambitious goals for increasing the numbers of medical tourists who come visit. They hope to compete with Thailand and India (better quality) and Singapore (better price). The Korea Tourism Organization is running medical tourism centers which I believe are like tourist information offices but specifically for medical travel.

I know from experience that medical care is less expensive in Korea but the culture is different too (though they have some hospitals designed for foreigners that are probably more westernized). Anyway I once stayed in a hospital a few nights after having an infected sweat gland surgically removed. It had burst and I needed a drain or whatever they call it for a few days. The surgery was a few hundred bucks and the hospital was $20-30 a night. I’m told (by a US doctor) that the whole thing would have been over $10,000 in America but I paid less than $500.

One reason the hospital cost $30 a night is that you stay in a dorm room with 8 or 10 other patients. I could have paid about $300 a night for a private room but the dorm room was OK. I shared food and practiced my Korean with the guy across from me. There is no TV so the only sound was from family members visiting and it wasn’t bad in my experience. Also the nurses’ station was right across from the room and I don’t remember ever having a problem getting attention when I wanted it.

Hospitals in Korea don’t serve food (again the hospitals designed for foreigners are probably different) and family members are expected to keep their loved ones fed. It is possible to order hospital food but I didn’t see anyone in my room doing it. Speaking of family members, Korean culture is for family members to provide round-the-clock care for the sick. Every hospital bed had a cot underneath it. Family members sleep on the cot and when I told my wife she should sleep at home she was really surprised. I guess Korean culture says you stay with your husband when he’s in the hospital. I said, “Just visit me once in a while. I don’t want you sleeping on a cot.”

But the guy across from me, his wife slept over on that cot. They have curtains you can close to give families a little privacy and it seemed kind of nice – never bothered me anyway.

Also, people in hospitals are expected to walk around on their own if possible. They wander around the hallways with their IV stand in tow and the hospital will have some lounge-type areas. Sometimes I see people in hospital pajamas on my university campus – there are a few smaller hospitals nearby and the patients like to walk, get some air, whatever.

Anyway, medical tourism in Korea might be a good deal and a good health choice but it can also be an interesting cultural experience, depending on whether you go to a regular hospital or not.

Medical travel idea: Dr. Mike Leahy’s Active Release Techniques (ART soft tissue repair)

I was reading about some wrist strengthening exercises because I recently started Hapkido, a Korean martial art where wrist locks are practiced regularly. During and after each practice my wrists hurt.

Anyhow, I somehow found this article that’s really an interview from 1999 that sounds like an advertisement. If it is an advertisement, I’m sold.

The interview is with Dr. Mike Leahy who innovated Active Release Techniques (ART). I don’t think this is the National Geographic science and travel show Mike Leahy. This is some sort of soft-tissue treatment – as the good doctor says in the interview:

All of the neuromuscular skeletal soft tissue. That means all the ligaments, the muscles, the nerves, the fascia, the tendons…it’s almost scary. We don’t work on livers and spleens and if you have a fracture we don’t work on that, but if you’ve had a dislocation we can work on that.

He worked with Bret Saberhagen, and MLB pitcher who tried to come back from a shoulder injury in the 90s. This article counts the Saberhagen story as a success story but as I understand it the shoulder was never right even though it was good enough to get him an 18 million dollar contract he wasn’t effective and couldn’t keep the shoulder healthy. I guess the fact that he went from not able to pitch at all to being able to pitch again is a success story even if Saberhagen reinjured his shoulder.

Anyway, I would guess that everyone reading this blog has soft tissue problems. I know I do. My wife does. My father does. I assume everyone else in my family does as well although they may be less apparent.

For me, my soft tissue issues affect how I spend my free time. I had to stop playing Kumdo (like Kendo – a martial art where we compete with a wooden sword) because of my left ankle. When I started Hapkido after a few spin kicks rotating on my left leg the ankle started hurting again. And I’ve written about how before I started exercising seriously I would always get lower back pain after walking (which really affected my traveling).

It might be worth taking a little vacation and going to one of these ART chiropractor types. They have them all over the US and some in Canada. The original Dr Leahy one is in Colorado Springs and I’ve never been there… Plus this old travel plan starts in Colorado Springs. And the Grand Canyon is not too far from Colorado.

Traveling for better health – what was your healthiest vacation?

This article talks about how spas are trying to change their image and that it seems to be keeping customers coming:

One reason, perhaps, is a marketing effort by spas to shed an image of extravagance and indulgence for one of necessity. The new approach, which McNees calls an industrywide sea change, focuses on health, wellness, and de-stressing. About 70 percent of ISPA members offer educational classes, from good nutrition to stress management, she says. “We’re a vacation of need,” says Tracey Welsh…

So I was thinking, what are my options for getting healthier on a trip? I’ve thought about a few:

Kayak or canoe trips. Possibly rafting.

Hikes – This Patagonia experience is pretty hardcore as was this Kilimanjaro climb. I’d be interested in something in America too – like hiking around the Grand Canyon or the redwoods in California or something. I started a Manali, India hiking travel plan a long long time ago but it’s not really that far up my list at the moment.

Some sort of yoga or ayurvedic retreat. I do eat fairly healthily, exercise, and lift weights but I should stretch more.

I’ve even thought about some sort of sports camp or something, like the ones professional athletes might go to for sprinting faster or something. That just doesn’t seem like a vacation though. There would have to be stuff other than training mixed in.

Anyway, my thoughts are drying up but what are your healthy vacation ideas?

Who gets botox on vacation?

I just read a press release from the Physicians Coalition for Injectable Safety (anyone else find that name weird?) that warns patients of the dangers of accepting Botox(R), Restylane(R) or any other cosmetic injection or procedure from unfamiliar physicians during vacation. I started thinking who does that anyway?

But I was thinking of a normal vacation – one that wasn’t planned around a medical procedure. Then I remembered the whole medical tourism industry and that many people are going abroad for cosmetic surgery. You can save a ton of money. And you can get quality medical care – the Patients Beyond Borders book said Brazil is well-known for plastic surgeons for example. And there’s the Jude Jarvis tragedy.

I guess the trick is to plan it right. The book I reviewed before discusses how to plan a medical vacation and find the right doctor. There may be other books on the market now but I don’t know what they are.

Medical tourism creating difficulties in Thailand – is medical tourism responsible tourism or exploitation?

I wrote a while back (almost 3 years ago actually) I wrote about how a friend of mine ended up with a nasty infection after visiting a dirty hospital in rural Thailand. Her arm is permanently disfigured as a result so it must have been serious.

Several people replied that healthcare in Thailand is actually excellent and my friend’s experience must have been the exception rather than the norm. It seems that we need to differentiate between private hospitals and public ones in Thailand. Since my friend was nowhere near a city I’m guessing she ended up in a public hospital, probably the only one anywhere nearby.

This article explains that public hospitals don’t have enough doctors because private hospitals near expensive hotels pay much better than public hospitals. In one day at a private hospital a doctor might make three times more than she would working 5 days in a public hospital.

The result is that while some hospitals in Thailand provide excellent care, public hospitals even in major cities like Bangkok (and you can imagine it would be even worse the further you get from a city especially since people are willing to travel hours to get tot he public hospital in Bangkok) are a bit more trying:

The outpatient waiting room looks a bit like Grand Central Station. On a very hot day. With no air conditioning.

Hundreds of patients are squeezed onto old wooden benches. Many more are slumped in wheelchairs or lying on gurneys.

Malai says she has come in from the district of Phetchaburi because she feels sick and her legs hurt. She also has hepatitis. She left her home at 3 a.m. to travel three hours to the hospital.

It reminds me of this story from a while back – I linked to one article about Canadians getting transplants in India from poor people willing to sell their organs. It seems that medical tourism is great for the tourists but there’s definitely some controversy over how good it is for the locals.

What do you think? Is medical tourism responsible tourism or exploitation?

And no, if I needed a kidney or whatever, I wouldn’t really care about the answer to my question.

Medical tourism FAQ, the travel biz, and downtime

First, if anyone visited while this blog was offline, let me assure you that all is now well. Apparently the hosting company (who I pay $225/month to keep this site online) had some problems. Overall, they’ve been pretty good about keeping us online even though we get a lot of traffic so I’m forgiving them.

Speaking of traffic, here’s a business that gets 1,000-2,000 visits a day to their web site about traveling with kids. They decided to turn it into a business and so they became a travel agency. Apparently they do enough business to have 4 full-time workers and plans to expand. I get about twice as much traffic so I wonder if I should start my own travel agency…

In fact, a friend of mine and I are trying to get a business started where we take people on tours of some of Brazil’s lesser know carnaval festivals. Surely there must be a few people who want to get away from the touristy one in Rio and see the real ones. Also, my wife and I are talking about doing tours in Italy when we finally retire there. Although I guess that means we’d be working and not really retired.

Anyway, I found this medical tourism FAQ and realized it has been a while since we covered that topic. Naturally you’d want to do more than read a single web page before going to Thailand for heart transplant or whatever – the only book I know of for you is Patients Beyond Borders.

Well there you go. I’ve explained why we were offline for a while, thought about selling out and making this blog some sort of business, and covered medical tourism briefly.

Medical tourism makes the news again

Here’s a story about a woman who saved 20,000 on some facial cosmetic surgery by getting it done in Mexico.

We know that medical tourism is a growing trend and we know that sometimes it is risky (not that it isn’t risky in the US as well). Naturally, US doctors say that it is riskier to travel abroad:

But Dr. Carl Lentz, a Daytona Beach plastic surgeon, said he is skeptical of the quality of care in operations that cater to overseas patients. He said he treated a patient who went to Costa Rica for surgery and came back with a saliva gland draining down her face.

In this case the woman had a personal recommendation from a friend who had used the same Mexican doctor which removes some concern. Doing your research would help relieve some concerns as well. But here are other issues.

The article I’m linking to here says that you can’t sue for malpractice when you get work done overseas. They also say many doctors in the US refuse to give patients follow-up treatment. Supposedly there are liability issues but it seems to me that US doctors are refusing to treat sick people – it just seems wrong.

One scary thing the article mentions is that insurance companies might start sending people abroad to save money:

The lower charges for medical service outside the United States could present a new wrinkle in the relationship between U.S. medical providers and insurance companies as companies look for cheaper ways to pay for their employees’ health care. It could mean your insurance company puts you on a plane to Thailand for the next heart valve replacement or you leave your gall bladder in India.

I don’t like this, but now the insurance companies seem to try to avoid paying at all, basically leaving people to die if their treatment costs too much. I’m reminded of the cancer patient who was denied treatment and pain killers.

I’m not sure how exactly, but I guess this will tie in somehow with the whole problem of unemployment and health insurance we have in America.