First Medical Tourism Guidelines Issued by AMA

Nine principles are listed in the first-ever guidance for medical tourism that were adopted this week during the American Medical Association's annual policy-making meeting in Chicago. The principles say patients should be referred for medical care only to institutions accredited by recognized bodies such as the Joint Commission International or the International Society for Quality in Health Care. They also say local follow-up care should be coordinated before the trip and financing arranged to ensure continuity of care when the patients return home.

"Medical tourism is a small but growing trend among American patients, and it's unclear at this time whether the risks outweigh the benefits," said AMA Board Member Dr. J. James Rohack. "Since this is uncharted waters, it is our hope that the AMA's new guidance on medical tourism will benefit patients considering traveling abroad for health care."

AMA said an estimated 150,000 Americans received health care overseas in 2006, with almost half of the procedures being for medically necessary surgeries. "We need to address the cost of care in the U.S. and cover the uninsured so that every American who needs health care can get it right here at home," Rohack said. "Until there is significant action at home, patients with limited resources may turn elsewhere for care. It is important that U.S. patients have access to credible information and resources so that the care they receive abroad is safe and effective."

The new principles are available at www.ama-assn.org. At the same meeting, AMA released a new National Health Insurer Report Card that examines claims processing by major health insurers. Based on a random sample pulled from more than 5 million electronically billed services, the initial report card examines the claims processing performance of Medicare, Aetna, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, CIGNA, Coventry Health Care, Health Net, Humana, and United Healthcare. AMA said it found no consistency in the insurers' application of codes to explain denied physician claims, and more than half of the insurers don't give physicians the transparency necessary for an efficient claims processing system.

Dr. Jeremy A. Lazarus, a Denver psychiatrist, was re-elected during the meeting to a second consecutive annual term as speaker of the AMA House of Delegates. Lazarus chairs the AMA Task Force on Physician Data Release and also chairs the AMA Task Force on Quality, Safety and Electronic Health Records.

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