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Implementing the AMA’s Guidelines For Medical Tourism

1. The AMA’s Report and Guidelines

In June 2007, the American Medical Association (“AMA”) released a report entitled “Medical Travel Outside the U.S.,” that tried to explain why people are going abroad for medical care. According to the AMA, the primary reasons that Americans are traveling for treatment are the ever escalating-cost of healthcare and the lack of affordable health insurance.

On June 16, 2008 the AMA re-entered the conversation with Guidelines on Medical Tourism. These guidelines address important issues of patient safety, transparency, financial incentives, after care, and legal liability. The AMA’s contributions to the medical travel industry at such an early stage is notable and important. Many American doctors strongly disapprove of patients who seek care abroad and few will agree to provide follow-up care for returning medical travelers. Those doctors are understandably concerned about incurring liability for another physician’s malpractice.

Widespread resistance in the medical community led many to believe that the AMA would either ignore or actively oppose the development of the medical travel industry. Instead, most were surprised by the AMA’s desire to get out in front of the issue and announce guidelines that some view as a traveling patient’s bill or rights.

As the health insurance industry and employers begin to explore the cost savings and benefits of medical travel, the AMA’s contributions promote patient safety and protection. The AMA has legitimized a nascent industry with only limited support from mainstream healthcare networks. Since the AMA entered the discourse, more and more health insurers are evaluating whether medical travel makes sense today, tomorrow or sometime soon.

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