Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Transparency and fraud in health tourism

One of the criticisms of buying services via the web is that you cannot always be sure with whom you are actually dealing. This is especially true in the field of health and medical tourism. When you visit a site about medical tourism:
  • How do you know who is behind the site?

  • How can you tell what they actually know about health tourism and healthcare in general?

  • How do you know if you can trust them?

  • How do you know where the patient's money is going?
Next month, I'm speaking at the Annual Conference of the European Healthcare Fraud & Corruption Network (EHFCN) in Edinburgh. The Conference theme is "Cross-Border Healthcare in Europe: A Gateway to Fraud and Corruption?".

The European Healthcare Fraud & Corruption Network (EHFCN) is the only European organisation dedicated to combating fraud and corruption in the healthcare sector across Europe. The network represents 23 member associations in 10 countries, which provide healthcare services to millions of people in Europe.
According to EHFCN, "the healthcare sector appears to be particularly vulnerable to corruption. The large amounts of money involved and the complexities of many healthcare systems play a role as well as the fact that there are many processes with high risks of bribery"

And now it is turning its attention to health tourism.
As a web publishing company in the healthcare sector, it's important that Treatment Abroad is transparent, and that when we're publishing health advice on our various web sites, we ensure that the information is written by qualified medical professionals. We make sure that all of our sites go through the Health On the Net Foundation's certification process. (I recommend that all healthcare sites go through this process.) And our company has a Medical Director to oversee what we do - Dr Nick Plowman from St Bartholomew's Hospital in London.
But in the world of medical tourism, is there a problem with lack of transparency and is there significant potential for fraud?
In researching my presentation for the EHFCN conference, I've taken a look at transparency in medical tourism. I did the usual Google searches and I came across Health-tourism.com for the first time: It states that is "a guide for medical tourism, bringing you reliable, objective and useful information that will help you plan your medical travel".

While I was browsing the site, I came across this:
  • Medical Tourism Transparency Award - "we have created the Medical Tourism Transparency Award. This is a badge awarded to websites of medical tourism providers whose website information meet the criteria below."

Now, let's be clear, the guys at Health-tourism.com may be decent and honest people, with the best interests of medical travelers at heart. But it was their "Medical Tourism Transparency Award" that caught my attention. Health-tourism.com says that "The purpose of this award is to encourage providers to supply necessary information on their web sites - making it easier for you to make an informed decision.

So, I put Health-tourism.com through a "Transparency Test".

I looked all over the site....

  • It says that it's run by Find Global Care.I can't tell who they are or what their qualifications are.

  • In the lengthy disclaimer it says "the content on this website has not been reviewed or prepared by medical professionals.

  • And it says that the "relationship between the visitor/user and FGC shall be governed by the laws of Cyprus". Why Cyprus?

  • I can't find any names at all.

  • I can't find out who owns the site or the company.

  • I can find an address - 1B, Pinetree Boulevard, Old Bridge, New Jersey.

I'm an inquisitive person.....

I did some digging for information on Find Global Care. But all I could find... was another web site - half built at www.findglobalcare.com and an entry on WikiCompany with no information on the company ownership.

So I thought I'd pay a visit to 1 Pine Tree Blvd, Old Bridge, NJ 08857, USA using Google Maps Streetview. (Isn't the web a wonderful thing?). I'm not an expert on US arrchitecture but judging by the Real Estate sigh outside and the building, this looks like an apartment building. But who lives there? And who's behind the business? And what does he or she know about health tourism?

Next, I checked out the domain name. It's registered to Udi Shomer from Illinois. Perhaps he's behind the business? Who is he? I don't know. But it's not a common name, and the web may have some info on him?

There's only ten results for a search for "Udi Shomer" on Google. (Hey, that's close to being a Googlewhack!). Let's take a look at the Udi Shomers on the web:

  • There's an Udi Shomer who has an entry in the Lonely Planet guide to Thailand.

  • There's a listing page for Tai Chi in Thailand.

  • And there's a few references in Israeli job sites (I think).

  • And that's it.

There's a clear message here for medical tourists who use the web to research healthcare services.

  • Look (very carefully) before you leap.!

And if anyone knows who runs Health-tourism.com, ask them to get in touch, so that I can fill in the gaps.


don wood said...

Hi Keith,

Don Wood here as one of three Directors for America's Medical Solutions, Pvt. Ltd, in Mumbai, India.

I appreciated your comments about "transparency" and the fraud issue you wrote of. Interesting!

One thing the web does is promote the "caveat emptor" (let the buyer beware) rules.

If you would do a transparency check of ourselves, you'll find all three of our directors and our personal phone numbers to boot. We've been in business here in Mumbai since 2006. We also have a number who have agreed to allow us to use their names and videos to prove who we are.

While transparency is the key, one thing I would disagree with is the tendency to lean on governmental or associational registration and authority. It never helps the public as much as it does the governments or associational directors. Caveat Emptor is the best of all friends, because when one is looking for the truth -- as you did -- it's out there for the asking.

For instance, we are three directors who LIVE here 24/7/365 and as Americans we know what our patients require and we would never recommend a doctor, hospital, clinic or otherwise without being sure of it ourselves.

Thanks for your article.

Don Wood, Co-Director, AMS
Mumbai, India

sisena said...

Hi Keith,
I agree with what u said, transparency in health tourism is very important. I came across a website which provides transparency in their service that is Asias Medical Tourism.

Thanks for the valuable information. looking forward for more posts.

K2 said...

Was able to get a callback from this company who left a message from phone number 7326914377. Sounds like name was Toni or Tori with a very hard accent. Was looking to advertise with this site so did some research and found your Blog entry on tranparency of health-tourism.com . Good work as I now will need to do much more research before actually advertising with these folks.
Kudos and I would like to speak further with you as well regarding transparency of websites in medical tourism.

Paulo Yberri said...

Your article shows the importance of researching a medical tourism company before patients entrust their health to it. By digging for information on one company, you illustrated what to look for in a reliable healthcare provider. Great example!

Dr. Deepika said...

Traveling thousands of miles only to get duped is a bigger setback than not having medical treatment in your native land.

Transparency in health tourism is important to make independent research easy.

MNM said...

Hi Keith,

I sent my sister to Chennai Apollo hospital for treatment. One of the doctors is asking us to pay 2500 indian Rupee to Health-Tourism. I really don't know what to do, it is very sad how a health care professional could ask for money for such company. The bottom line is, we don't even know who they are (Health-Tourism) and we never use their service to find that doctor.

I would love to take some legal action on that but I don't think I could do it in India. Please let me know if you have any advice for me, I will really appreciate it.


Keith Pollard said...

Contact me direct at my company address with some more details and I will see what I can find out.
use the form at http://www.intuition-communication.co.uk/contact-us/aboutus-enquiryform/

Steve said...

Seems to me that this post is quite irrelevant, as this website doesn't provide medical treatment, and it's not an agent.
All it does is list hospitals and clinics, so you can contact them (same as you would through their website).
Maybe you got scared and decided to trash your competitors?

Keith Pollard said...

>>>this post is quite irrelevant, as this website doesn't provide medical treatment, and it's not an agent

I don't think that's a valid point. Any web site that's involved in providing healthcare information should follow some basic rules in terms of transparency. These are clearly set out within the Health on the Net (HON) guidelines.

Am I trashing a competitor?

I didn't actually realise that this site existed until I wrote the article. It hasn't appeared on our radar before, probably because the traffic levels are so low that it doesn't feature in the Hitwise web activity data that we purchase.