Medical tourism hits New Zealand


Americans requiring complex surgery will be able to have operations in New Zealand after the launch of a Kiwi medical tourism company.

Medtral was set up late last year to attract uninsured Americans or those looking for a cheaper option for surgery to come to New Zealand.

The company, whose creator is New Zealand obstetrician and gynaecologist Edward Watson, will initially do surgery in private Auckland hospitals but aims to expand to Wellington and Christchurch within about five years.

It intends to do up to 1000 complex operations a year on United States medical tourists over the next next five years, but says the surgery on foreigners will not mean Kiwis miss out.

More than 100,000 private surgeries are done every year in New Zealand.

Watson is in the US seeking business.

Medtral director Andrew Wong, who is also chief executive of Auckland’s MercyAscot private hospital, said the company would soon operate on its first patients.

One patient is Eugene Horn, of Williamina, Oregon, who needs both knees replaced at a cost of $US200,000 ($NZ216,000).

Horn had medical insurance but had to pay the first $NZ52,000 in a type of insurance excess, Wong said.

For less than that amount, Horn could fly to New Zealand with his wife, have the surgery, accommodation for almost two weeks and a nurse visiting him in his hotel room after the operation.

The deal also appealed to US insurance companies as they would not have to pay for Horn to have surgery in the US, Wong said.

Visiting Americans would get complex operations performed as it made less financial sense to travel here for minor operations, he said.

One operation they would be attracted to was robotic surgery, which was a newer form of keyhole surgery where movement was minimised because it was done by a machine operated by a surgeon.

Roger Styles, the executive director of the Health Funds Association of New Zealand, which represents health insurers, said Americans would provide extra numbers and money, which would allow hospitals to buy the latest technology to use on Kiwi patients.