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Home for the Holidays (And For Health)

For many people, a medical vacation is – literally – a medical ‘vacation.’ No wonder the emerging popularity of medical tourism.

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In 2007, ONLY two years after she started working as a nurse in Philadelphia in the US, L.T. Magallanes needed to have some dental work, specifically three fillings and a complete cleaning, done. Of course she had dental insurance, just as she had other insurances provided by her employer, “but it only covered part of the (projected costs reaching) over $1,140,” she says, meaning that “I had to share, to co-pay the costs, which would cost me over $570. (And) while the amount is actually affordable, it meant foregoing, even if only temporarily, a lot of stuff – and that’s including going home for a well-deserved vacation after three years.”

After mulling over her options, and with the help of her mother based in Las Piñas City who did some “dental investigation price canvassing in our hometown in my behalf,” Magallanes decided to visit, instead, their family dentist, who was willing to do all the needed dental works for only P6,500, approximately only $162 (at P40 to $1 exchange rate).

So late last year, Magallanes was able to come home to “look after my well-being while vacationing,” she says. “It’s like hitting two birds with one stone, as the cliché goes. And it can’t get any better than this.”
Magallanes is actually one of the continuously growing number of people discovering the benefits – and joys – of medical tourism.

MERGED BENEFITS

Medical tourism, the “act of traveling to other countries to obtain medical (including dental, surgical, et cetera) care,” as defined by the philippinemedicaltourism.info, has actually been growing in prominence due to “a combination of many factors, including exorbitant costs of healthcare in industrialized nations, ease and affordability of international travel, favorable currency exchange rates in the global economy, rapidly improving technology, and standards of care in many countries of the world.”

“More and more people from all over the world are traveling to other countries not only as tourists who come for sightseeing and shopping but also to get medical, dental, and surgical services from hospitals and other health destinations,” Dr. Carlos Lasa Jr., a certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon specializing in aesthetic/cosmetic surgery and liposuction, states in his Web site cosmeticsurgeryphil.com. “The Philippines is also fast becoming a favored destination for patients seeking quality medical care at very affordable prices. The high costs of healthcare in industrialized countries, the improved standards in foreign countries and the lower costs of air travel have made medical tourism a popular trend. In the Philippines, for example, both local and foreign patients who otherwise couldn’t afford medical procedures such as plastic surgery benefit from the highly favorable exchange rate. The cost savings are significant,”

The Philippine government is actually pushing for the country to become a preferred medical tourism destination. But it is, however, still the private practitioners that take more active steps in promoting the country, such as the Philippines’ top hospitals.

For example, if the average surgeon’s fee for eyelid surgery in the US is $2,500, in the Philippines, a qualified surgeon only charges $600 to $1,500. For liposuction, surgeon’s fees in the US average $2,000 per area; in the Philippines, it is only around $800 for the first area and $500 for succeeding areas.

This is because “lower overhead costs and professional fees makes it possible for surgeons to perform these surgeries at a fraction of the cost of the same procedures in the US, the UK, and other countries, without sacrificing quality of care,” Lasa adds.

Touted as a “revolution in health care,” medical tourism is expected to earn select Asian and Latin American countries a total of $4.4 billion by the end of 2012. India alone is forecasted to generate $2 billion of that figure, according to the Confederation of Indian Industry, with over 150,000 medical tourists visiting the country annually. The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) estimated that some 270,000 medical tourists visited Singapore in 2004, earning the country $500 million in Singapore dollars (nearly $300 million US dollars).

And there’s room for more players, too, since even while official statistics on medical tourism have still not been collected, the number of those availing of medical tourism is estimated to grow at a rate of about 15% annually, with most of the patients coming from the Middle East or Asia, though the US, Canada, and the UK are also starting to take notice of the trend.

For the Philippines, on top of these markets, there are the overseas Filipinos, too, who, like Magallanes, are looking at caring for their health while coming over to reestablish their roots in their home country.
Aside from the Philippines and India, countries like Mexico, Brazil, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Hungary, Israel, Jordan, Lithuania, Malaysia, South Africa, and Thailand actively promote medical tourism.

The appeal is understandable.

According to Forbes Magazine (forbes.com), “rising health care costs are inducing patients to seek treatment overseas. The appeal of this phenomenon is driven by cost savings as high as 90%, depending on the procedure and the country in which it is performed.”

Cutting costs is important, since in the US alone, it is estimated that over 45 million US citizens are without health insurance, and even more with health coverage that they consider inadequate. In fact, on average, every sick person in the US spends at least $1,000 in out-of-pocket expenses after obtaining treatment, what with the medical insurance premiums rising by 87% on average since 2002, even as earnings for the same period only increased by 20%. Thus, those offering cheaper fees are gaining prominence – a knee replacement surgery in the Philippines may only cost $6,000, as opposed to $50,000 in the US; a heart bypass surgery around $10,000 in India, as opposed to $60,000 to $80,000 in the US; a gastric bypass surgery in Thailand less than $5,000, as opposed to $10,000 to $20,000 in the US; and a hip replacement in Turkey only around $7,000, with the cost doubling that in the US.

But Forbes Magazine states that “the benefits go beyond costs. Consumers gain from cost savings, but may also receive excellent care from highly qualified doctors (since) many providers offer more personalized care, i.e. a higher physician-to-patient ratio, than is commonly available in, say, the US or Canada.”

“For many people, a medical vacation is exactly that – a medical ‘vacation.’ Imagine recuperating after surgery on a white sand beach while sipping island drinks and receiving full-body massages. Think about all the exotic foods, tourist attractions, and shopping you could enjoy.”

Better yet, even as offshore medical procedures can be performed for as little as one-tenth the cost of what would normally be charged in the US, “the facilities offshore are state of the art. These are modern hospitals that often are newer and have much better technology and equipment than hospitals in the US, (and are) typically staffed by Western doctors and surgeons trained in Western medicine, (providing) equal or greater quality surgical care than US hospitals. These surgical procedures are performed with the same technology and expertise, yet cost a fraction of the price.”

Also, as noted by healthmedicaltourism.org, many countries heavily regulate or even ban select elective procedures or complicated surgeries, such as hip resurfacing, which was only recently approved by the US Food and Drug Administration despite its widespread use. Worse, even where the procedures are available, many are troubled by wait times (in Canada, over one million Canadians claim to have experienced or are still experiencing difficulties in access to health care and support).

And then, of course, there’s the vacationing part. “For many people, a medical vacation is exactly that – a medical ‘vacation.’ Imagine recuperating after surgery on a white sand beach while sipping island drinks and receiving full-body massages. Think about all the exotic foods, tourist attractions, and shopping you could enjoy,” the Web site further states. “The fact of the matter is, most of us need medical treatment from time to time, and most of us plan vacations every year or so. Why not combine the two into an all-out medical vacation that provides you with everything you need, want, and desire?”

Not that medical tourism is not troubled with issues of its own, too, according to Forbes Magazine, since “consumers also face risks when undergoing treatment in a foreign country,” including the difficulty in follow-up when the patient returns home; expensive care may be required if complications occur; and the differences in malpractice laws in other countries. Thus, caution is advised.

As for Lasa: “Whether patients are having… surgery abroad or in their home country, choosing the right surgeon is the single most important decision they will make. To ensure best results, patients should choose an authentic… surgeon with the training and experience that is essential for the success of their surgery.”

LOCAL SCENARIO

The Philippine government is actually pushing for the country to become a preferred medical tourism destination, with a provision in the Executive Order No. 372 (released in October 2004) calling for the creation of a public-private sector task force for the development of globally competitive Philippine service industries, which include medical tourism, as well as retirement and leisure, and information technology and logistics.

It is, however, still the private practitioners that take more active steps in promoting the country, such as the Philippines’ top hospitals, including the Asian Hospital, Capitol Medical Center, Kidney Institute of the Philippines, Makati Medical Center, Medical City, Philippine Heart Center for Asia, St. Luke’s Medical Center, and UST Hospital.

And for these players, cost is still what drives this growing segment of the travel industry. And the local prices continue to be competitive, too.

This, most certainly, is what drove Magallanes to opt to have her dental procedures in the Philippines. “(After having the procedures done, many) told me I actually helped a growing industry in the Philippines,” she says. “But for me, that didn’t even enter the picture (when I decided to have what I needed done in the Philippines). It was simply to have them done well without costing me too much – which I was able to have done (in the Philippines). That I have vacationed while there, that’s most certainly just a bonus, a welcome bonus.”

And for many, this is the very appeal of medical tourism.

Believing that knowing on its own is not good enough, "you have to share what you know, too", Mikee dela Cruz gladly shares through his writing. A (BA) Communication Studies graduate, he had stints with UNAIDS, UNICEF and Ford Foundation, among others, writing "just about everything". Read on as he does some sharing through Zest Magazine.

NewsMakers

5 Tips when buying life insurance for the first time

A knowledgeable and professional insurance agent can offer trusted guidance when it comes to finding the right life insurance protection at the right price.

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Photo by Vlad Deep from Unsplash.com

Major life changes like getting married, starting a family or buying a house are often when people start thinking about buying life insurance. Now, more than ever, people are more concerned with their financial security. Buying a life policy can be a process that sounds intimidating or confusing – but it’s also very important.

During this Life Insurance Awareness Month, Erie Insurance shares five points to discuss with your agent when buying life insurance for the first time.

  1. Understand who (or what) you are protecting. While anyone experiencing a significant life event like getting married or starting a family often recognizes the need for life insurance, others may not realize they could benefit from it as well. For instance, stay-at-home parents and student loan cosigners could have a definite need for life insurance.
  2. Only buy the life insurance plan you can afford. Many people are surprised at how much life insurance they really need to protect the people and things they love most – but they are also surprised at how affordable it can be. If you cannot find a policy that fits in your budget, it’s a mistake to forgo any coverage at all. Something is definitely better than nothing.
  3. Think through your beneficiaries. A life insurance beneficiary is the person or entity you name in your life policy to receive funds in the event of your passing. Your beneficiary can be a person, business, trust, charity or even your church. And you can have more than one. It’s important to make sure you think through who your beneficiaries are and if any proceeds meant to benefit a minor should be held in a trust.
  4. Buy from a financially sound company. You want the backing of a financially strong insurer if you or someone you love needs to call on the life insurance policy. A.M. Best, the largest and longest-established company devoted to issuing in-depth reports and financial strength ratings about insurance organizations, gave Erie Family Life Insurance Company a rating of A (Excellent).
  5. Consider current and future needs. Don’t just consider your current lifestyle, keep in mind your future needs and what those could include for your spouse, children or business (think college expenses, weddings, etc.). By taking in these considerations today, you’re investing in the security of your future. Life insurance is less expensive than most people think—and that’s especially true when you’re younger. 

A knowledgeable and professional insurance agent can offer trusted guidance when it comes to finding the right life insurance protection at the right price. Life insurance with Erie Family Life offers you the right coverage with flexible options, helping you to build a policy now that is adaptable later.

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Online menus should put healthy food first

Women who see healthy food at the top of an online menu are 30 to 40 percent more likely to order it, a Flinders University study has found, with the authors saying menu placement could play a role in encouraging healthier eating.

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Photo by Drahomír Posteby-Mach from Unsplash.com

Women who see healthy food at the top of an online menu are 30 to 40 percent more likely to order it, a Flinders University study has found, with the authors saying menu placement could play a role in encouraging healthier eating.

Published in the journal Appetite and led by Flinders University PhD Candidate Indah Gynell, the team investigated where on a menu healthy items should be placed to best encourage people to choose them.

“Previous research has explored menu placement before, but the studies were inconsistent, with some finding placing food items at the top and bottom of a menu increased their popularity, while others suggested that the middle is best,” said Ms Gynell from Flinders’ College of Education, Psychology and Social Work.

“In our study we compared three locations on both printed and online menus, with online being an important addition in the age of food ordering platforms, such as UberEats and Menulog, especially during the pandemic.”

The researchers created menus containing eight unhealthy items and four healthy items, arranged in three rows of four on the physical printed menu and in one column of 12 on the digital menu. In one study, the physical menu was tested on 172 female participants, while in the second study, the digital menu was tested on 182 female participants.

Female participants were chosen as previous research has found that dieting behaviours – likely to impact menu choice – are consistently more prevalent in women.

Participants then chose an item from one of the experimental menus before completing a psychological test that identified their ‘dietary restraint status’; that is whether or not they were actively choosing to restrict their eating habits for the purpose of health or weight loss.

“We found that neither the order of food items, nor participants’ dietary restraint status, impacted whether or not healthy food was chosen in the physical menus,” says Ms Gynell.

“However, for the online menus, we found that participants who saw healthy items at the top of an online menu were 30-40% more likely to choose a healthy item than those who viewed them further down the menu.”

The authors say the finding is important because if added up over time, consistent healthy choices could result in general health benefits at a population level, highlighting why such an intervention could be worth implementing.

“Diet-related illnesses and disease are more common now than ever before, and with a rise in online food ordering it’s important we uncover cost-effective and simple public health initiatives,” says Ms Gynell.

“Changing the order of a menu, which doesn’t require the addition or removal of items, is unlikely to impact profits as consumers are guided towards healthier options without being discouraged from purchasing altogether.

“This means it’s more likely to be accepted by food purveyors and, despite being a somewhat simple solution, has the potential to shape real-world healthy eating interventions.”

The effect of item placement on snack food choices from physical and online menus by Indah Gynell, Eva Kemps, Ivanka Prichard and Marika Tiggemann is published in the journal Appetite.

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Serving larger portions of veggies may increase young kids’ veggie consumption

The researchers found that while the larger portions of vegetables were associated with greater intake, the addition of butter and salt was not. The children also reported liking both versions — seasoned and unseasoned — about the same. About 76% of kids rated the vegetables as “yummy” or “just ok.”

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Photo by Nadine Primeau from Unsplash.com

It can be difficult to get young kids to eat enough vegetables, but a new Penn State study found that simply adding more veggies to their plates resulted in children consuming more vegetables at the meal.

The researchers found that when they doubled the amount of corn and broccoli served at a meal — from 60 to 120 grams — the children ate 68% more of the veggies, or an additional 21 grams. Seasoning the vegetables with butter and salt, however, did not affect consumption.

The daily recommended amount of vegetables for kids is about 1.5 cups a day, according to the official Dietary Guidelines for Americans as set by the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services.

“The increase we observed is equal to about one third of a serving or 12% of the daily recommended intake for young children,” said Hanim Diktas, graduate student in nutritional sciences. “Using this strategy may be useful to parents, caregivers and teachers who are trying to encourage kids to eat the recommended amount of vegetables throughout the day.”

Barbara Rolls, Helen A. Guthrie Chair and director of the Laboratory for the Study of Human Ingestive Behavior at Penn State, said the findings — recently published in the journal Appetite — support the MyPlate guidance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which recommends meals high in fruits and vegetables.

“It’s important to serve your kids a lot of vegetables, but it’s also important to serve them ones they like because they have to compete with the other foods on the plate,” Rolls said. “Parents can ease into this by gradually exposing kids to new vegetables, cooking them in a way their child enjoys, and experimenting with different flavors and seasonings as you familiarize them.”

According to the researchers, the majority of children in the U.S. don’t eat the recommended daily amount of vegetables, which could possibly be explained by children having a low preference for them. And while serving larger portions has been found to increase the amount of food children eat — called the “portion size effect” — kids tend to eat smaller amounts of vegetables in response to bigger portions compared to other foods.

For this study, the researchers were curious if increasing just the amount of vegetables while keeping the portions of other foods the same would help increase veggie consumption in kids. They also wanted to experiment with whether adding light butter and salt to the vegetables would increase their palatability and also affect consumption.

For the study, the researchers recruited 67 children between the ages of three and five. Once a week for four weeks, the participants were served lunch with one of four different preparations of vegetables: a regular-sized serving of plain corn and broccoli, a regular-sized serving with added butter and salt, a doubled serving of plain corn and broccoli, and a doubled serving with added butter and salt.

During each meal, the vegetables were served alongside fish sticks, rice, applesauce and milk. Foods were weighed before and after the meal to measure consumption.

“We chose foods that were generally well-liked but also not the kids’ favorite foods,” Rolls said. “If you offer vegetables alongside, say, chicken nuggets you might be disappointed. Food pairings are something you need to be conscious of, because how palpable the vegetables are compared to the other foods on the plate is going to affect the response to portion size. You need to make sure your vegetables taste pretty good compared to the other foods.”

After analyzing the results, the researchers found that while the larger portions of vegetables were associated with greater intake, the addition of butter and salt was not. The children also reported liking both versions — seasoned and unseasoned — about the same. About 76% of kids rated the vegetables as “yummy” or “just ok.”

“We were surprised that the butter and salt weren’t needed to improve intake, but the vegetables we served were corn and broccoli, which may have been already familiar to and well-liked by the kids,” Diktas said. “So for less familiar vegetables, it’s possible some extra flavoring might help to increase intake.”

Diktas said that while serving larger portions may increase vegetable consumption, it also has the potential to increase waste if kids don’t eat all of the food that is served.

“We’re working on additional research that looks into substituting vegetables for other food instead of just adding more vegetables,” Diktas said. “In the future, we may be able to give recommendations about portion size and substituting vegetables for other foods, so we can both limit waste and promote veggie intake in children.”

Liane Roe, research nutritionist; Kathleen Keller, associate professor of nutritional sciences; and Christine Sanchez, lab manager at the Laboratory for the Study of Human Ingestive Behavior, also participated in this work.

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