Peter’s hip first started bothering him when he fell hard during a basketball game. He ignored the slight injury and continued to jog on the beach and spike volleyballs with our grown sons (I’m their avid cheerleader).
Left unattended, advanced arthritis eventually set in to create agonizing pain. Since we run adventure charters aboard our catamaran Freebird, this was a big problem.
Our safety depends on Peter’s good health. He tolerated the pain until he could no longer stand it. It was time for hip surgery. There was just one catch. We are uninsured Americans.
We dropped our insurance a long time ago when we sailed around the world, finding health care costs to be minimal in most foreign countries. Some even had better medical technologies than the U.S. In French Polynesia, my breast mammogram was free. The dentist in Malaysia used impressive new medical devices and innovative procedures. In Bali, the doctor diagnosed Peter’s typhoid fever with a speedy lab report that cost only $40.
So when an orthopedic surgeon in Florida quoted $29,000 for Peter’s hip surgery, we started shopping abroad. Our budget was $10,000 tops, including travel tickets. It was a low figure, but if we took advantage of currency exchange rates, we felt we could stay within our range.
There are over 50 countries welcoming medical tourists. We analyzed hip procedures, surgeon profiles, and leading hospitals. We wrote to family and friends back home asking for recommendations. My mother was not hot on the idea.
Surprised, I told her that many of our UK and Canadian friends had gone abroad for surgical procedures, having grown frustrated with long wait periods back home or because their surgeries were non-urgent medical procedures. Our U.S. friends discovered that their insurance companies either did not cover a procedure or limited their choice of facilities, surgeon, or—in some cases—use of prosthesis.
We asked questions: Is the hospital accredited by the U.S. Joint Commission International (JCI)? Is the surgeon trained in the U.S. or Europe? Is English widely spoken by the surgeon and hospital staff? How many procedures has the surgeon performed? (Our benchmark was 500.)
Is the surgeon proficient with innovative medical technologies? Would the hospital allow me to stay overnight in Peter’s room? (I wanted to be able to assist in care-giving and to micro-manage, just a tad!)
After six months of research, five countries topped our list. India won out with a bid of $7,200. Poland followed close behind at $9,447. Thailand was $13,900; Mexico $14,500; and Costa Rica came in at $15,100. Apollo Specialty Hospitals in Chennai, India, was the only one that allowed me to stay overnight. When Peter learned it was accredited, he emailed the hospital right away and was pleased when a top-ranking, UK-trained orthopedic surgeon wrote back within 24 hours.
India gave Peter a new life and blessed me with a happier husband.
Editor’s note: See the current issue of International Living for Peter’s and Tina’s full story, including details of the hospital, costs of the trip and more. If you’re not already a subscriber, you can become one here—and get instant access to the full premium health care article.