Health without borders

Concern about their health awakens people’s desire to seek new habits for healthier living and greater peace of mind. And once they start looking, they can find alternative treatments that relax body and mind, doctors offering more modern and advanced procedures, “superfoods” and dietary supplements for a more balanced diet, physical exercises that strengthen the muscles and, quite often, they find answers to their medical questions in health services outside the borders of their own countries.

Going abroad to obtain medical care can be upsetting for some people; for many, the journey, the expense and the fact of being far from home in a country with a different language can be very off-putting obstacles. But travelling abroad can sometimes be the only way to obtain the treatment or cure they are looking for, because the standards of medical care differ from country to country, not only in terms of technological progress but also with regard to procedures and experimental therapies. Nobody should feel discouraged by the challenges to be faced along the way. Why not take the family along for the ride? And with the help of a translator and/or interpreter, find the best way to benefit from cross-border healthcare, by communicating in another language?

As new patients continue to appear, healthcare providers must...

1. Respect the principles of universality; of access to quality healthcare; of fairness and solidarity; of non-discrimination on the grounds of nationality; and patients’ rights to privacy;

2. Dignify the duty to inform; healthcare providers must inform patients about their treatment options, prices and professional insurance. All the information must be available in English;

3. Honour the patient’s right to medical information. Patients are entitled to know the contents of their medical records, either remotely or by having access to a physical copy. Ideally, their medical records would be translated into their own languages but, where this is not the case, they should at least be in English.

More information about cross-border care is available online at the Portuguese Ministry of Health’s website (www.diretiva.min-saude.pt) and that of the European Commission.

(http://ec.europa.eu/health/cross_border_care/policy/index_en.htm).

An opportunity to invest in health tourism.

It is becoming increasingly common to combine medical treatment with a stay to recharge the batteries. As well as being treated by a specialist of their choice, patients can enjoy a short holiday in a foreign country and explore it while they recover. There are many reasons why patients choose cross-border health tourism: to avoid long waiting lists in their home countries, the desire to be treated by the same doctor from start to finish, and the lower risk of infection by not undertaking their return journey too early, are just a few examples.

Often, another country offers patients opportunities that they cannot find at home. For example, someone with respiratory problems will benefit greatly from the altitude in the mountains, where the air is cleaner and purer; and even the simple fact of travelling to a different place can help patients to breathe more easily again.

Online research is the most frequent source of information (71%), followed by patients’ local doctors (46.7%) and their friends and family members (27.5%), with tour operators playing an insignificant role. So it is important for each country to divulge information about their health tourism sector, highlighting the medical specialities on offer and the benefits of convalescing in that country. More than 50% of people believe language to be a decisive factor when it comes to health tourism, so it is vital that due attention is paid to the translation of content into the languages that are most spoken and used for research. The most popular destinations for European patients are France, Poland and India.

If a country has the necessary qualities to become a health tourism destination, this concept must be worked upon by the tourism institutions in conjunction with healthcare providers such as hospitals, clinics and health centres. This is because people are increasingly searching for high-quality, high-technology specialised services that are happy to accept and treat visitors of various nationalities in any language.