Travelling for treatment

NHS patients now have more options than ever about how and where they receive healthcare. The proposed EU Directive on Patient Mobility will provide a framework that will extend patient choice for NHS patients, enabling them to become medical tourists and seek treatment abroad.
    
Additionally, growing numbers of NHS patients are choosing to access healthcare from the UK’s private sector with a ten-fold increase in NHS patients receiving treatment in the UK private sector in 2008.
    
These changes in the way NHS patients access and receive healthcare could lead to changes in the way NHS operates as it has to compete for patients with the private sector and European healthcare providers.

Medical tourism
Medical tourism is already a growing phenomenon among self-paying patients and in 2008 around 80,000 ‘medical tourists’ travelled abroad for treatment. The new Directive will create a formal framework and remove obstacles for NHS patients wishing to travel for treatment to other EU countries, increasing the already growing number of self-paying medical tourists who seek treatment in the EU.
    
This expansion of patient choice comes with its own set of challenges and opportunities for both patients and NHS healthcare professionals, not least how to find and access reliable information about healthcare providers and facilities both at home in the private sector and in the EU.
    
How to find information about medical treatment in EU countries was the point that emerged most consistently from NHS organisations and individuals when consulted about the perceived impact of the EU Directive. Most raised concerns that there is a need for patients and professionals to obtain reliable information about their options in a way that enables them to make informed decisions. Concerns have been raised about how patients and their doctors might assess different standards of quality and safety that may apply and clinical practices that may differ from one EU member state to another.

The web as a resource
The obvious resource for both medical staff and patients researching treatment options in EU member states is the internet and while there are numerous websites promoting individual clinics and facilities both in the UK and abroad it is hard to know what to look for and what is the best destination for a particular treatment.
    
The Treatment Abroad website, www.treatmentabroad.com is an easy to use site that provides a large amount of information for health tourists making it easy for potential patients to research and compare treatment options. With over 70,000 visitors a month, Treatment Abroad is already the most visited site on the web for self-paying medical tourists who are looking for information about cost effective surgery and medical treatment abroad.
    
The website provides an extensive online resource, providing information on healthcare services, doctor accreditation, treatment costs, travel and accommodation throughout EU countries and the rest of the world. There is also an extensive and free Guide to Medical Tourism to download which answers the majority of frequently asked questions.
    
Treatment Abroad also has a patient ratings and reviews system (www.reviews.treatmentabroad.com) that lets medical tourists share and rate their experiences. Treatment Abroad’s ‘Code of Practice for Medical Tourism’, the first of its kind in the industry has been set up to encourage the adoption of best practice in medical tourism through the commitment of international healthcare providers to a voluntary code of practice. Both the code and the ratings and reviews have been introduced to give further reassurance to prospective health tourists.
    
Keith Pollard set up the website to help medical tourists make the right choice when researching treatment options by providing comprehensive, current information which answers the questions both professionals and individuals may have about medical tourism.
    
He said: “I believe that the EU Directive will take the concept of patient choice to a new level and www.treatmentabroad.com will assist that choice by providing the most up-to-date and relevant information that patients need when making decisions about travelling for treatment.”  
    
According to Treatment Abroad’s medical tourist survey, the experiences of self-paying medical tourists are resoundingly positive with 97 per cent of patients willing to travel abroad for treatment again.

Healthcare transformation
Pollard believes that the EU Directive could revolutionise the way the healthcare market in the UK and Europe operates and could have a significant impact on the NHS.
    
“Competition from European hospitals could prompt much needed changes within the NHS. Successive governments have tried to introduce market forces within the NHS. Ranked 17th out of 29 European countries in the recent Euro Health Consumer Index, the NHS now faces real competition in the marketplace and this combined with more NHS patients receiving treatment within the private sector in the UK, it could be a time of consumer led change within the NHS,” Pollard added.
    
In the UK, where thousands of patients a month in England are exercising their right to opt for any NHS hospital or private unit that can offer care at NHS tariffs, patients and doctors also need a reliable source of information. In 2008, the number opting for private hospitals rose ten-fold to over 3,500 a month with over 147 approved private hospitals agreeing to NHS prices. As with potential medical tourists, UK NHS doctors and patients are also turning to the web to find out about private healthcare treatment options.
    
Researching information on individual websites run by private hospital groups is time consuming and often confusing for both professionals and patients. There are a number of websites that provide healthcare information but Private Healthcare UK, www.privatehealthcare.co.uk, is the only online information service that has a vast amount of information on private treatment and private healthcare services and providers.
    
The website has current and comprehensive information about all aspects of private healthcare in the UK. It has been established for over ten years and currently has 500,000 visitors a month. The site provides information and guides on all aspects of private health care services including private doctors, health insurance and private hospitals.

Helping decision making
Private Healthcare UK has recently launched a private healthcare guide on NetDoctor, which will be an invaluable and easy to use resource for the increasing number of NHS patients and their doctors researching treatment options in the private sector.

www.netdoctor.co.uk
is a health information website, providing impartial medical information, written by doctors and medical specialists, health care professionals, information specialists and patients that attracts around 4.5 million visitors a month and is in the top three of UK health information websites.
    
Both Private Heatlhcare UK and NetDoctor provide clear, unbiased information that helps patients understand their choices and treatment options; both are written in clear English without using difficult to understand and often confusing medical jargon.
    
Keith Pollard said: “The way NHS patients receive treatment both in the UK and in Europe is changing rapidly. The way healthcare professionals and patients research and find information out about healthcare choices both home and abroad will contribute to enhancing patient choice by giving them as many options and as much information as they need in order for doctors to give patients comprehensive and reliable information and for patients them to research the best care possible for themselves.”

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