Medical Tourism - How American doctors are driving patients out of the country
When Eileen Draper told her gynecologist she was having menopausal symptoms, her doctor told her she had to start taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT). “Don’t I have a choice?” Draper asked. Her doctor told her that all of her patients in peri-menopause had to go on HRT; there was no choice if she wanted to keep her doctor.
But Draper had done extensive research, and she was not willing to risk the side effects of HRT. The doctor also required each patient to have annual bone density tests and mammograms. Eileen knew that mammograms emit large amounts of radiation, and these were expensive tests. Eileen did not have insurance. She decided to find a Naturopath, a doctor who treats without drugs. Surveys show that the reason most patients seek treatment outside of conventional medicine is because their doctors want to dictate tests and treatments, not allowing patients to make their own choices.
Nowadays, patients want to be partners with their doctors, able to discuss treatment options and be part of the decision making process. When faced with a life-threatening illness, patients want to feel they have some control over their situation. Being herded into conventional treatments without being allowed time to research and make informed decisions often means the patient loses faith in traditional medicine.
Marvin Stein had been into natural healing all his life. When he developed prostate cancer and his oncologist recommended immediate surgery followed by chemo and radiation, he explained that he wanted to try natural healing methods before such drastic treatment. The oncologist threatened to dismiss him, saying that if he didn’t follow his orders, he was on his own. Without a doctor of record, Stein had no one to order tests or follow his case.
“I gave in to the doctors’ demand,” Stein says. “I had the surgery. I am permanently impotent, and often have incontinence. I am so sorry I let this doctor be such a dictator. It’s my own fault, for not standing up for my rights as a patient. When my brother was diagnosed with the same cancer, he went to Germany and had non invasive treatment. Today he is cancer free, and he had absolutely no side effects.”
Treatments that are free of side effects are one of the main reasons people choose to go outside the US for their health care. The second reason given was that doctors practicing more natural medicine tend to spend more time with their patients, listening to and addressing concerns and making the patient an integral part of the decision process.
Statistic show that Americans spend more on alternative treatments each year than they do on conventional medicine, even though the money comes directly out of their pocket. A 1998 study by The Christian Research Institute reported that Americans spent as much as 32.7 billion dollars on alternative treatments that year. This figure reflects the huge amount of dissatisfaction with conventional medicine. One of three adults in American used alternative treatments this past year. Patients want to be heard, and consulted, and they want less surgery and drugs and more personal attention. Conventional practitioners’ inability to provide this type of care is forcing patients to seek alternative treatment or to look outside the US for the types of treatment they want.
A study by the National Institutes of Health showed that patients using alternative treatments tended to be highly educated and relatively wealthy. These pro-active professionals tend to be in pursuit of wellness and disease prevention. Instead of expensive tests and drug therapies, they use diet, stress reduction like meditation, supplements and herbs, exercise and yoga to maintain their health. When they do see a medical doctor, they are seeking expert advice and guidance, but want to participate in their healthcare decisions.
There are over 18,000 licensed Acupuncturists in the US, another 4,000 Naturopaths, plus practitioners of Ayuvedic, homeopathy, massage therapists, energy medicine and biofeedback. Patient satisfaction keeps them coming back and the alternative fields are a thriving business. Cancer patients who research the realities of chemotherapy also want better options.
While most traditional medical doctors still frown on these ‘complimentary’ therapies, many are beginning to incorporate some aspects of alternative care into their practice. Until our doctors understand the need to treat the whole person, US citizens will continue to flock across to border for treatment of their serious medical conditions, and pro-active health care consumers will continue to spend billions to stay healthy naturally.
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