The thriving sub-industry of alternative Tijuana cancer clinics relies primarily on palliative care licenses to operate, a end-of-life-care-focused designation that seems somewhat sinister when it’s hidden behind promises of miracle cures. In looking beyond those promises, MacDonald’s investigation finds an interesting mix of chicanery and genuine good intentions, but ends on a familiar, cautionary note.
I have been fortunate in that I have successfully emerged from my own treatment for breast cancer, so I completely understand the desperation that people will feel when they are told their condition is terminal. It is a death sentence. I understand why many patients or their families will begin to scour the internet in search of a cure and will seize on anything that offers hope. However, as our investigation has shown, at least some of the Tijuana clinics are offering nothing but false hope. There is little or no evidence to support their claims that their strange therapies actually work and there is plenty of evidence that vulnerable people have parted with large sums of money for no reason.
AHCJ Board Member and Kaiser Health News reporter Julie Appleby explores the emerging phenomenon of domestic medical tourism, a catchy name for the corporate art of comparison-shopping for hospitals across the country.
“By steering workers to facilities with high-quality care and lower prices,” Appleby writes, “employers say they can reduce their costs 20 percent to 40 percent — more than enough to cover the travel expenses.” The reduction in the cost comes not just from cheaper service, but because treatment at higher-quality centers leads to fewer complications.
There’s no universal national clearinghouse for the sort of data companies are using for this comparison shopping, and each of the field’s pioneers seem to have a different method. At least one uses the hospital ratings produced by Health Grades, while Lowes has signed a deal with the Cleveland Clinic. Employees are sometimes reluctant to travel, but the prospect of cheaper, better care has proved attractive.
Appleby’s sources found the trend difficult to quantify, but clearly growing.
She also notes that the reform efforts don’t seem likely to change those two central systematic problems, and thus medical tourism is likely to be here to stay, at least in the foreseeable future. The piece also explores the consumer side of medical tourism, profiling an Oklahoma surgeon who competes on price and transparency.
The article also cites an executive who advises that the economics of going overseas for treatment start making sense when the American price tag for a procedure reaches about $15,000.