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Medical Tourism

International hospital accreditation skyrockets 1,000%

Sandy Dhuyvetter, Travel Talk Radio  Aug 17, 2009

In the last five years, the number of JCI (Joint Commission International) accredited public and private hospitals around the world has increased by nearly 1,000 percent. Up from a mere 27 hospitals and health care organizations with that accreditation in 2004, currently over 250 such entities in 36 countries have now been accredited by the JCI. This extremely high standard of “American accreditation” now instills a new level of confidence in US citizens seeking affordable health care alternatives abroad. With the US Congress currently locked in a fierce battle over how to solve the national health care crisis, Josef Woodman, author of Patients Beyond Borders, joins Sandy Dhuyvetter on TravelTalkRADIO to discuss this extraordinarily relevant trend.

Sandy Dhuyvetter: We are going to talk today to Joe Woodman. Josef Woodman is the author of Patients Beyond Borders. He’s been on the show before and we had such a great time with him, we've learned so much, we’ve asked him to come back. And since he’s been on the show, he’s been in Malaysia. This book is brand new. I really recommend it. It’s on our website. Come on over to Also, right there in the programming, you’ll see a picture of Joe, a link over to his website, of course, and a link to the book. Joe, thanks so much for being on the show again.

Josef Woodman: Well thanks for having me again.

Sandy: Yeah, you’ve been putting on some miles since we talked to you.

Woodman: Oh, yeah; I was telling my wife that when the showers at the Ambassadors Club at Narita start feeling at home, you know you're traveling too much.

Sandy: (laughs) Yeah, that’s for sure, but you know what, I hate to say, but all the toiletries and things like that are incredible over there aren’t they, if you want to talk about personal hygiene.

Woodman: What I really like is the multi-headed showers. This one has like seven heads, and you just get the full bore treatment, enough said. It is a great halfway exercise. It really gets you home and in a lot better condition, so you can be somewhat human when your lovely bride picks you up at the airport.

Sandy: Absolutely, absolutely, nothing like getting a fresh man home. Hey listen, let's talk about what you are doing, Patients Beyond Borders. Again congratulations on this wonderful book. We love it. We have been giving it to people who are blown away, because medical travel, no matter how you present it, until you've experienced it or you’ve been to a hospital, it’s really difficult to imagine isn’t it?

Woodman: It is, and I think it’s one of the biggest obstacles to medical travel here in this country. Certainly not in other countries. In Europe, and almost anywhere else you can think of where people actually have passports, you don’t have those kinds of obstacles. But yes, in the United States there is kind of xenophobia. People just can’t imagine getting medical treatment - outside of a mud hut - despite the fact that in the last five years we've seen the rise of over 250 American accredited hospitals around the world.

Sandy: So in one year we've seen that many new hospitals?

Woodman: No, in the past couple or three years. When we started research on the book, there were only 27JCI [Joint Commission International] accredited hospitals. Now, that was back in 2004. So, in just five years there are now over 250 JCI accredited hospitals and, by the end of this year, the JCI people tell me there will be closer to 300.

Sandy: Amazing, and we are talking all over the world aren’t we?

Woodman: Right, and those are the same accreditation agencies that accredit the best hospitals in this country: Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Mayo Clinic, Duke Medical Center. This has now allowed other hospitals to participate, as long as they can show that they are up to exactly the same standards that are demanded over at an American hospital. So, that gives Americans a huge amount of comfort that these hospitals have got kind of a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for their hospitals as well, whether it’s in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, or Singapore, or Bangkok or India.

Sandy: Yeah, you know, really and truly when you talk about getting yourself involved in a company, you are really looking to be able to trust and know that you can be confident, and when you have those kinds of credentials behind these hospitals, that says volumes. You really do have your finger on the pulse of this. What are the trends? Like you said, there are hospitals all over the world. Is there a trend right now to go to one specific region?

Woodman: It depends. Certainly, if you’re pursuing dental or cosmetic surgery, if you are American, Latin America is the place to go. You do have some very fine clinics there. It’s a shorter hop, the procedures are not as radical, and you do have the quality of care that [has] been established over many, many years of practicing dentistry and cosmetic surgery in Mexico and Central America. What you don’t have, especially for the more invasive, complicated procedures such as heart, cancer, orthopedics, is the health care infrastructure. And you do have that in Asia. There are a number of countries in Asia who rank much higher than the United States, as a matter of fact, in terms of their health care offerings. Singapore, Malaysia, even India when you go to the right hospitals, certainly come to mind. Thailand, in fact, has the granddaddy of all the international hospitals: Bumrungrad. And they see between 20,000 to 40,000 US patients every year. They are [the] largest international hospital in the world.

Sandy: That just blows my mind.

Woodman: So, Asia is becoming probably the big hotspot for medical tourism, whether you are an American seeking care overseas, or Europe, which is a little closer. Certainly, after 9/11 when the Saudis and people from Jordan and people from all over the Middle East were coming to America because it had the very best healthcare, or the reputation for the very best healthcare in the world, after they weren’t welcomed after 9/11, they began to seek out places like Thailand, Singapore, and Malaysia, which were, number one, friendlier to Muslims and Middle Easterners and, number two, a whole lot closer and just a lot more welcoming. Asia has really trended up. They deserve it. They have 1,000 to 2,000 beds, American-accredited hospitals, top instrumentation, top doctors, and many of them American trained. Many of the doctors are actually run by Americans and Europeans. There’s a lot to offer there and a lot of choice for Americans for just about any procedure, not to mention a 30 to 80 percent savings.

Sandy: We are talking to, I call him the “doctor” because he knows more about this than almost anybody I know, and we're talking about medical travel. This is Josef Woodman. He is the author of Patients Beyond Borders. He just got back from Malaysia and I have to ask you, how was that trip?

Woodman: Well, probably the average American doesn’t even know where Malaysia is on the map, and I have to confess that I didn’t have a really good idea where it was. So, to put it in perspective, it’s just above Singapore or just below Thailand, I should say. That’s half of it, that’s western Malaysia, and eastern Malaysia is on the island of Borneo and shares the space with a couple of other nationalities. But the Peninsula of Malaysia is what we are talking about, mostly Kuala Lumpur and Petronas Towers, the twin towers there. I was an aspiring architect some 30 years ago, and I have never seen a more truly awe-inspiring piece of contemporary architecture.

Sandy: Did you go on the bridge and look down?

Woodman: I did, but you have to get almost a kilometer away before you really see them, and it has to be at night, and it should be during one of the frequent thunder storms where you actually sometimes are fortunate enough to see lighting strike the tower. It’s one of the closest things to a religious experience I think I can express.

Sandy: (laughs) I love to hear that.

Woodman: And I was trying to explain this to my wife and I said, “You know, I never understood a woman's love of jewelry and the need to have a certain piece of jewelry.” That is what these are, they are true gems, and they are just really wonderful.

Sandy: I was just going to say we stayed about 50 feet away from the towers last time we [were] there, and we had the torch runner for the Olympics run right through, between our hotel and the towers.

Woodman: Oh, you are kidding! Oh, that must have been unforgettable.

Sandy: Yeah, it was a magnificent sight, and like you said, too, even up close I was overwhelmed at its beauty, too. And talking about gems, you said it was really much like the healthcare over there?

Woodman: Well, the healthcare system in Malaysia is also a gem. They have a really great system of accreditation that they have had in place for a long time: Malaysia Society for Quality Healthcare. They are quickly being known as a JCI country, and probably by this time next year, they will have at least a half a dozen JCI-accredited hospitals. They’ve got three now. They have a spectacular new facility called Prince Court Medical Center, which is funded by Petronas; it’s owned by the big oil company there. And this is the closest thing to a 7-star hospital that I have ever seen. In fact, an associate of mine during the trip was a former hospital administrator from the US and is now with one of larger insurance companies. And he told me it’s one of the top five hospitals that he has ever seen. And they have a number of specialties, orthopedics, oncology; they’ve got a burn center that they intend to be the most high-tech, well-qualified group, serving burn victims for aftercare especially in the south east Asia region. So, the nice thing about Malaysia is it’s one of the straits colonies. It was colonized by the British, and they still speak the King's English there. So you’ve got a lot of cultural friendliness, a lot of language friendliness, more so than you might even encounter in Mexico or Costa Rico. Hop into a cab, they speak English. It will wear you down when there’s not a lot of cultural transparency, and you just need to get from one place to another or you’re trying to order in a restaurant.

Sandy: A good point if you are doing medical travel.

Woodman: Like Singapore, Malaysia has quite a bit of English.

Sandy: So when you get the book, if you are considering medical tourism or medical travel, as we like to call it, Patients Beyond Borders is really your guide to not only finding out the countries, but the kinds of services they offer. You’ve done a beautiful job, and its almost 400 pages so you’ve got a lot in here on every area from Czechoslovakia, to Jordan, Malaysia, Mexico, Panama, the Philippines, Singapore, South America, Korea. It just goes on and on. Is this the 2nd edition, Josef?

Woodman: The 2nd edition was released about a year ago, and we are already hard at work on our next edition, which will probably be released 9 to 12 months from now. But we felt a real need to update the book almost weeks after it was published, mainly because it hit such a nerve. We had a whole lot of hospitals call us up, we had entire countries and ministries of health contact us, and say, “Wait, why weren’t we in there?” We added eight countries to our 2nd edition including Jordan, Israel, Korea, Taiwan, Panama, and Turkey. And all of them, Turkey for example, had something like 28 JCI-accredited hospitals, more than any other country in the world. When we were doing the research on the book, most of the web sites were in Turkish. Things have changed so rapidly that now most of those JCI-accredited websites are in English. They’ve got a lot more English in the hospitals, and Turkey has become a real medical travel hub.

Sandy: Beautiful. You know, I wish we had more time. Josef Woodman, thank you so much for joining us on TravelTalkRADIO. We are talking about Patients Beyond Borders. It is a book that you [have] got to get. I highly recommend it. Come on over to . You are going to see all the information there. Alright Joe, talk to you soon alright?

Woodman: Hey, thanks so much for having me on board. Take care.

Sandy: You bet, we loved it. Take good care.

International hospital accreditation skyrockets 1,000%
Josef Woodman / Image via

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