People considering surgery overseas should “do their homework” on a new private health fund service offering medical vetting and 12 months after-care for offshore cosmetic or dental work, consumer group Choice says.
Health fund NIB plans to offer one-year “options package” covering patients who suffer a complication from medical procedures.
It plans to address concerns about offshore doctors and hospitals by vetting surgeons and facilities as part of a move into the $300 million a year burgeoning Australian medical tourism market.
The company says this will help consumers make informed decisions and has likened it to travel review site Tripadvisor.
But Choice spokesman Tom Godfrey urged consumers to “do their homework” before taking up the new offerings.
“NIB might try to vet the hospital, but when it comes to infection control there’s obviously still a risk,” he told AAP on Tuesday.
“Consumers need to know that these hospitals don’t operate in the same standards as hospitals in Australia.
“When you’re messing around with your health, it’s always good to be careful.”
However, he conceded consumers were “in a tough spot” given the high cost of medical care in Australia.
“As healthcare costs in Australia rise, the temptation is to look overseas to see if you can save some money,” he said.
Australian Medical Association president Steve Hambleton said the service could also end up putting more pressure on Medicare.
In some cases, follow up after surgery lasts longer than 12 months – particularly for knee and hip replacements.
“The decision to have surgery is a really important one and sometimes the right decision is not to have surgery at all,” he said.
NIB spokesman Matthew Neat said the fund accessed local plastic surgeons as well as qualified plastic surgeons and dentists in overseas facilities.
“We’ve made sure we’re only sending customers to facilities that pass our controls and (they’re) only getting operated on or treated by surgeons … who have gone through that credentialling process,” he told AAP.
The overseas facilities being used by NIB were in Thailand.
The fee-for-service product will be launched on Tuesday.