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Global health care

You prick your finger, put a few drops of blood in a vial, put it in an envelope and mail the package to a lab in Georgia.


You prick your finger, put a few drops of blood in a vial, put it in an envelope and mail the package to a lab in Georgia.

In a few days, you check a secure website and find out if you have diabetes, or heart troubles or even cancer.

If you decide you need a doctor, you call a 24-hour help line staffed with physicians in India — a centre modelled on computer help centres operating there now — for advice on what care to get.

Then all you have to decide is which country you want the surgery to be done in.

There was no shortage of blue-sky thinking at a recent medical tourism conference in Las Vegas.

All the predictions about the future shared two basic conclusions: Patients will become consumers directing their own care, and health care will soon be as globalized as manufacturing.

“Personally, I think the long-term economy is going to be about multinational health-care corporations ... with facilities in North America and Asia,” says Jason Yap, head of the Singapore Tourist Board’s medical tourism office. “And patients will be sent to where resources are best deployed.”

That’s basically how consumer goods are manufactured today, and the doctors and entrepreneurs attending the Health Care Globalization Summit saw no reason health care would be any different.

In fact, Vishal Bali, who runs a chain of hospitals in India, says the future is largely already here. His Wockhardt Hospitals, for instance, already have a 24-hour call centre.

Like Yap, Bali foresees a day when only minor procedures are done in the more expensive industrialized nations, while major surgery is conducted in developing countries where costs are lower. In India, for instance, bypass surgery can cost $10,000, compared with more than $100,000 in the U.S.

“It all boils down to cost savings,” Bali says.

Dr. Brian Day, head of the Canadian Medical Association, foresees a day when Canada could be a medical tourism destination, once waiting lists are eliminated here.

“I think we can come within a few thousand dollars of those Indian prices,” says Day, who was not at the Vegas conference.

Computer companies are getting in on the act, as well.

AOL co-founder Steve Case has set up revolutionhealth.com to help people direct their own care, while Google has just launched an online health records business.

For many at the conference, easier access to records, traditionally the property of individual doctors and hospitals, was considered essential to the development of global health care.

Microsoft Corp., meanwhile, is developing ways for doctors to consult with one another and with patients by computer — especially handheld devices, in hopes of reducing response times.

 
 
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