By Dr Tomislav Meštrović, MD, PhD
Excellent health-care facilities exist around the world that can provide services in the domain of medical tourism. Since it is now easier than ever to cross national borders and receive high-quality care at international clinics and hospitals, all parties involved must be held to high standards of legal practice and clinical care. Accreditation is the best way to ensure strict external evaluation.
In general, accreditation represents a voluntary process by which institutions meet standards established by an external accrediting body. Standardization through accreditation can also be viewed as a risk reduction and quality optimization strategy. In the context of medical tourism, institutions encompass various clinics and hospitals, while the accrediting body refers to any organization recognized by the International Society for Quality (ISQua) in Health-Care-accredited organizations.
Hence ISQua can be viewed as "the accreditor of accreditors", which accredits international accreditation organizations such as Joint Commission International, Accreditation Canada, Trent Accreditation Scheme and Malaysian Society for Quality in Health. Their aim is the delivery of safe and high quality health care, based on standards and processes devised and developed by health care professionals for health care services.
It is important to note that accreditation should not be based simply on paying a business registration fee, but instead on meeting (or even exceeding) transparent and well-defined standards of practice. The majority of health-related international accreditation organizations currently accredit medical clinics, hospitals and laboratories.
On the other hand, new accreditation standards are also needed for critical assessment of medical tourism agencies. Although their primary involvement is to arrange travel to other nations, they are also active in coordinating the provision of health services. Such coordinators, agents or medical facilitators need recognized training that will enable them to discharge such tasks in a competent manner.
International accreditation of health-care facilities
When establishing international networks of health-care providers, involved medical tourism parties should be restricted to arranging health services at clinics and hospitals that have undergone international accreditation by ISQua in Health-Care-accredited organizations. As growing numbers of patients cross borders in search of a specific health care, this is becoming increasingly important.
The whole idea behind accreditation and licensing is to offer interested parties a testament of external quality evaluation against unanimous healthcare standards. In other words, medical tourism patients are ensured of standardized healthcare practices, regardless of where in the world the facility in question is located.
Core aspects of patient care are in the focus of the international accreditation standards, and a fundamental requirement is to establish a protocol for the continuity of care, with appropriate measures in place for the discharge, referral, follow-up and transfer of patients. The fact that accreditation standards require the medical facility to identify and evaluate the healthcare needs of the patient before admission is important.
Clinics and hospitals interested in attracting international patients should undergo an international accreditation process prior to joining the global health-care networks. Medical tourism companies that provide care at unaccredited international health-care facilities should have their licenses revoked.
Potential problems with accreditation
One of the biggest potential problems with accreditation for the medical tourism parties is the fear that the commercial aspirations and needs of the accreditation schemes may become ends in themselves. Many accreditation schemes that operate internationally are indeed private companies and corporations.
In addition, poorer countries that are usually heavily involved in providing medical tourism services may not have adequate access to the accreditation process, or engaging in it would lead them to financial hardship. Accreditation processes often do not tackle ethically contentious areas (i.e. organ and tissue donation, organ trafficking, surrogate pregnancy, selective gender abortion, use of unproven therapies and operations).
Accreditation can sometimes also be used as a marketing tool by medical tourism facilitators, wealthier hospitals or even governments of the provider countries, seeking for their slice of the lucrative medical-tourism business.
Last Updated: Sep 17, 2014