A checklist for overseas hospitals

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Arnold Milstein, chief physician for Mercer Health and Benefits in San Francisco, said there are four major items people should check on before going overseas for medical care.

Accreditation -- The U.S.-based Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations has an international branch that applies the same standards to overseas hospitals, he said. Consumers can check the list by going to www.jointcommissioninternational.com.

Doctor training -- Several of the larger overseas hospitals now have many physicians who trained in the United States or other Western nations, including doctors who are board-certified, meaning they have passed strict tests for their specialties. Consumers should ask for those figures and find out whether the physicians they'll be seeing have such training.

Customer service -- Many overseas hospitals, especially renowned ones like Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok or Escorts Heart Institute in New Delhi, India, are known for providing round-the-clock nursing care and other assistance. But Dr. Milstein noted that those reports are usually anecdotal, so they are harder to check. Still, he said it's a fairly safe bet that international hospitals provide better customer service than many American hospitals, if only to ease the anxiety of foreign patients.

Medical outcomes -- Again, the larger international hospitals will often publicize their mortality or infection rates. But Dr. Milstein cautioned that it is difficult to make accurate comparisons, especially since most American hospitals don't provide such information themselves.


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