Traveling abroad for treatment can be perilous

February 1, 2007

In an attempt to reduce healthcare costs, a U.S. company is encouraging its employees to go abroad for necessary medical or surgical care. A recent article in the Christian Science Monitor noted that Blue Ridge Paper Products in North Carolina is sending an employee to India for two surgeries that will cost about $20,000-far less than the estimated $100,000 for comparable procedures in the United States.

In an attempt to reduce healthcare costs, a U.S. company is encouraging its employees to go abroad for necessary medical or surgical care. A recent article in the Christian Science Monitor noted that Blue Ridge Paper Products in North Carolina is sending an employee to India for two surgeries that will cost about $20,000-far less than the estimated $100,000 for comparable procedures in the United States.

U.S. employers and employees considering a similar overseas adventure into the unknown should be aware of the potential risks and liabilities linked to the cost savings. With few exceptions, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to evaluate the quality of care provided by non-U.S. physicians and hospitals. While exceptions do exist, and some countries have even pioneered new procedures and technology, it is unlikely that most physicians and facilities around the world, particularly less-developed nations, possess the skills and technology to provide care comparable to that found in the United States. The safety of the blood supply, proper sterilization techniques and the potential re-use of disposable equipment that cannot be properly sterilized, are only some of the serious problems unsuspecting patients may confront.

If something should go wrong during an offshore surgical procedure or hospital stay, it may be difficult or impossible to seek redress, win a judgment or collect damages. In fact, the employer would likely become the target for protracted litigation by the patient or family.

Martin I. Kalish, MD, JD, is with the Healthcare Practice Group, Zuckerman Spaeder LLP in Miami.