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But the gas is cheaper...

My wife is one of those people that will drive her Suburban 18 extra miles to utilize a gas station that is advertising gas at 3 cents less than the station near our home. I love my wife but this has been a source of contention in our home since we were married. As someone with a background in emergency management, I look at the risk of this ridiculous decision every time.

To start, the cheap gas station is in a part of town known for tragic car accidents every few days. Second, the gas station is always busy and half the pumps never work. How is this cheaper? The price of aggravation alone is staggering in my mind. Does it make sense to drive to Home Depot that is 40 miles away to spend $300 less on 2x4’s? Absolutely! Does it make sense to spend $4 in gas to get 40 dollars in gas for $39?

C’mon. Even with the new math this is stupid.

Since it is my blog and I can spout off on stuff, here is another “cheap gas” scenario for you:

Medical tourism.

Let me ask first who started this and called it this? The very idea of taking a vacation for surgery is beyond my comprehension and yet I find that thousands do it every day. If I was in need of surgery and you suggested piling me into the ole’ family mini-van so I could go to a clinic across the border to be operated on by a guy I have never met in a country where I have no control over my own life and then told me that while recuperating I would be back in that same mini-van on the way home, I would probably fall off my chair laughing.

You might remember that in early March of this year, Two Americans were found dead and two alive after they were abducted while traveling to Mexico in an incident that is raising questions about whether people in the U.S. are at risk when they cross the border to access health care. Ya think?

The attack and subsequent murder was carried out by multiple gunmen in the northern Mexico border city of Matamoros. If you remember my blog about this incident, the gunmen did apologize after. Thank God for that. They probably did not want to ruin that reputation they have for being one of the top medical tourism destinations south of the border. Yep, killing your patients is really bad for optics.

So today The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a travel advisory after some U.S. residents were diagnosed with suspected fungal meningitis infections following medical or surgical procedures in Mexico. Don’t be confused by the travel advisories already in place by HOMELAND SECURITY because of the CARTEL ACTIVITY and continuous MURDERS AND ABDUCTIONS. This one is only because of meningitis.

Fungal Meningitis

Apparently the infections were contracted after procedures in Matamoros, which is located on the Texas border, and have led to serious illness and death. This seems eerily similar to the outcome from being abducted and shot.

The Level 2 advisory urged travelers to “practice enhanced precautions.” What?

The Texas Department of State Health Services also issued an alert Tuesday and said an investigation had identified at least five patients. One has died, while four are hospitalized.

Here is a quote from the CDC: “Travelers with these infections had medical or surgical procedures (including liposuction) that involved injection of an anesthetic into the area around the spinal column (i.e., epidural) performed at clinics in Matamoros, including River Side Surgical Center and Clinica K-3.”

Clinica K-3

The CDC urged travelers who have had procedures in Matamoros that involved an epidural infection of an anesthetic since Jan. 1 to monitor themselves for symptoms and to consider seeking medical advice. Those who experience symptoms should “immediately” go to a hospital emergency department, and I assume that the CDC means one in the UNITED STATES.

The symptoms of fungal meningitis include fever, stiff neck, headache, confusion, nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light. While anyone can contract it, the infection is not contagious and can be treated with IV and oral medications. People with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of infection.

Further advice was given such as “Cancel any procedure that involves an epidural injection of an anesthetic in Matamoros, Mexico, until there is evidence that there is no longer a risk for infection at these clinics.”

Or, we could kinda postpone trips to Mexico until the President of Mexico gains control of his country and the cartels are not at war with everyone around them including the United States.

Tell me there is a dentist in Canada that will do my root canal for $300 and I am packing the car, but tell me I can get a deal in Mexico right now? Hard pass.

Unfortunately, travel from the U.S. to Mexico for medical care is common. The reason, of course, is because it is the cheaper gas. In Mexico it is much easier to get appointments and the surgeries are much cheaper…financially cheaper.

Medical tourism can be defined as the process of traveling outside the country of residence for the purpose of receiving medical care. Originally, the term referred to the travel of patients from less-developed countries to developed nations in pursuit of the treatments not available in their homeland. Such is no longer the case.

Today we are experiencing both qualitative and quantitative shifts in patient mobility, as people travel from richer to less-developed countries in order to access health services. The shift is mostly driven by the relatively low-cost of treatments in less developed nations, the availability of inexpensive flights and increased marketing and online consumer information about the availability of medical services.

What really puts the word "tourism" in medical tourism concept is that people often stay in the foreign country after the medical procedure. Travelers can thus take advantage of their visit by sightseeing, taking day trips or participating in any other traditional tourism activities.

What is mind-blowing to me is that the American public takes warnings and advisories from Homeland Security as seriously as they do tornado sirens. Until tragedy strikes, ignorance is bliss, but when the tornado hits, the government better rescue me.

Medical tourism represents a worldwide, multibillion-dollar phenomenon that is expected to grow considerably in the next decade despite the increased advisories, threats and political trends. For the individual interested in health services, cost is the key factor involved in the decision to receive medical care abroad and so all else is ignored.

As healthcare costs in the US and other parts of the world are excessively soaring, many employers and insurance companies started to view medical tourism as a way to lower them. More and more countries around the globe have started to see the financial benefits from this emerging market, so they offer premium medical services at notably lower prices.

The primary reason that clinics and hospitals in the developing countries are able to lower their prices is directly related to the nation's economic status. As a consequence, surgery prices are from 30% to 70% lower in the countries that are promoting medical tourism when compared to the US.

But what about quality of care? There are two major components of the service quality in the health care sector - technical or mechanical quality and serviceable or functional quality. Technical equipment is at the core of the patients' diagnostic algorithm, while the functional quality is measured by the service offered in the healthcare centers (such as the services of staffs, nurses and, most importantly, the doctors towards the patient and their assistants).

The service quality in the medical tourism industry is a vital part in attracting customers.

Clinics and hospitals in other countries, especially Mexico, are not stupid when it comes to marketing. Offering a premium experience is easy where costs are low, salaries are low but return on customer service is high. While one might think that you will be in a clinic surrounded by chickens with a dirt floor, the opposite is true. Mexico’s clinics and hospitals are making improvements and presenting beautiful environments as a way of overcoming that fundamental barrier of perceived lower quality of care. What they don’t put in the brochure is how dangerous it will be to get to that clinic or hospital or how you might be abducted, raped and murdered while enjoying your stay after your surgery.

I am not sure why we, as an American people, fail to understand or pay heed to warnings and advisories and I am sure that nothing will change anytime soon. I doubt anyone cancelled a trip today because of the CDC’s warning anymore than most failed to change their Spring Break plans after the Department of Homeland Security warned tourists about the dangers of travel.

I remember speaking to a grieving widow on a warm, muggy spring day just hours after a tornado had devastated her community. As tears ran down her face and she clutched her young son’s hand, she told me about her husband who had lost his life just hours earlier. He had not died saving the family, he had not died rushing neighbors to safety, he had not even been trapped in his car on the local highway when the tornado struck. He had placed his family in their storm shelter and then had returned to the front yard to smoke a cigar and watch for the tornado as the sirens screamed overhead.

Sounds like medical tourism to me.

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