How to solve US health care problem—outsource it

Here’s an article from the Washington Post about the increasing number of “medical tourists” going to India to get lower cost treatment. Just like other labor in India, surgeries can be done at a fraction of the price of the job in the US.

Three months ago, Howard Staab learned that he suffered from a life-threatening heart condition and would have to undergo surgery at a cost of up to $200,000 — an impossible sum for the 53-year-old carpenter from Durham, N.C., who has no health insurance.

So he outsourced the job to India.

Taking his cue from cost-cutting U.S. businesses, Staab last month flew about 7,500 miles to the Indian capital, where doctors at the Escorts Heart Institute & Research Centre — a sleek aluminum-colored building across the street from a bicycle-rickshaw stand — replaced his balky heart valve with one harvested from a pig. Total bill: about $10,000, including round-trip airfare and a planned side trip to the Taj Mahal.

“The Indian doctors, they did such a fine job here, and took care of us so well,” said Staab, a gentle, ponytailed bicycling enthusiast who was accompanied to India by his partner, Maggi Grace. “I would do it again.”

…The phenomenon is another example of how India is profiting from globalization — the growing integration of world economies — just as it has already done in such other service industries as insurance and banking, which are outsourcing an ever-widening assortment of office tasks to the country. A recent study by the McKinsey consulting firm estimated that India’s medical tourist industry could yield as much as $2.2 billion in annual revenue by 2012.

“If we do this right, we can heal the world,” said Prathap C. Reddy, a physician who founded Apollo Hospitals…

Seems to me this is the next big trend, one that can help control the upwardly spiraling cost of care in the US. I belong to Kaiser Permanente, the biggest HMO in the US. They’ve already outsourced their back-office record keeping to India. Why not more medical procedures?

With telemedicine and, eventually, robotic surgery—techniques making rapid advances for services to people in places like north Canada and at the VA—a lot can be done from afar. Why not just have a technician present to put hands on you and a bunch of automated analyzers and monitors to see how you’re doing? Case management from India along with occasional teleconferences to pick up a little bedside manner.

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