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March 11th, 2009
04:11 PM ET

Health care lessons from abroad

Program Note: Tune in tonight to hear Sanjay talk about his interview with former president Bill Clinton at 10 p.m. ET on AC360°.

Danielle Dellorto
CNN Producer
Medical News Unit

Dr. Sanjay Gupta and I recently packed our bags on a voyage around the world - India to be exact. We wanted to investigate the newest trend in health care: Medical Tourism. Americans are beginning to literally “country shop” for the best hospitals at the best price for their operations.

We spent time at a New Delhi hospital and it wasn’t what you might expect. It was upscale and high-tech. It had marble floors, wi-fi, a book cafe, even a Subway in the lobby. Their operating rooms were stocked with the latest high-tech medical equipment and the majority of their surgeons had studied or worked in the United States.

So we started to ask ourselves, what are they doing to save costs that we aren’t? How can the exact same procedure cost $10,000 in India and $100,000 in America?

New Delhi neurosurgeon, Dr. Ajaya Jha believes America’s hospitals are wasting a lot of money on administration costs. Oh yeah, he also says we aren’t good negotiators (more on that later).

Jha believes too many people are making careers out of, “carrying laptops and documenting things that are not really useful in the long term for the patient.” Fair enough. Also, the salary of a U.S. surgeon is five times of a surgeon in India. “Nobody can't work for free, right? We [surgeons in India] want to make a profit but we don't want to profiteer. We don't want squeeze people and I think American industries should also think that way,” Jha says.

But why would an x-ray on the same machine cost a patient 10 times more in the U.S.? It appears they’re paying a lot less for the actually equipment. Hospital officials in India say they negotiate hard and get rock-bottom deals.

But come on, are they really better negotiators? Or are medical equipment companies just ripping America off? That’s a question health reformers in Congress need to sort out.

The ‘cost-saving’ advice we heard in India goes on and on. They feel America’s malpractice and legal fees are too high. They believe we open unnecessary medical supplies then depose of them without thinking twice.

The argument that we’re wasteful holds some weight when you look at the numbers. Procedure costs to patients are so high yet half of America’s hospitals are in the red. Why?

One thing is for certain, as the Obama administration begins reshaping our health system, they might be able to learn a thing or two from the hospitals in India.

But I want to know what you think! Are our hospitals wasteful? Are salaries of U.S. docs too high? Should the government start regulating the sale of medical equipment? Do you think we’re getting ripped off?

Editor's Note: Catch Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s full investigation of Medical Tourism from India on “Vital Signs” March 26th on CNNI.


Filed under: 360° Radar • Dr. Sanjay Gupta • Health Care
soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. Laurie

    I don't understand for the life of me why American media continues to be virtually silent on it's reporting of what a single payer system is , how it works in other countries . In the 1960's Medicare was implimented within a year , and by many accounts is the only success story in our messed up medical system . Yet media ignores this . Could it be , that mass media funding is controlling this debate ??? From my perspective the medias complicity with the insurance industry is no differant than it's complicity with the Bush administration after 911 .... Same with our elected officials when campains are so heavily funded by the same industries . How can we have a real debate about the future of our health care when not all the players are being brought to the table , and the American people are being kept in the dark by a media unwilling to tell the whole story????

    March 12, 2009 at 10:27 am |
  2. rudy rupak

    Danielle, It was a pleasure to assist you on this story and look forward to seeing more.

    regards, Rudy Rupak, PlanetHospital

    March 12, 2009 at 4:55 am |
  3. Lokesh

    I am a neurosurgeon like Dr. Gupta here in Southern California.
    There is no question that there is a lot of waste in our health care administration and health care delivery . But much of this waste is due to our existing regulations, our existing tort system, and our existing payment system for health care. I have witnessed it both as a provider of health care and also as a patient.

    Any attempt to compare our costs to the costs of a private hospital in New Delhi that caters to medical tourists and wealthy Indians is absurd. A better comparison would be to compare our hospitalization and medication costs to other first world countries like Canada, UK, France, and Japan.

    When will our media start to present or provoke a real dialogue about health care reform by discussing the real contributors to the exorbitant costs of health care– the pharmaceutical companies, the governments collusion with these companies, the medical device manufacturers ( what i like to call the "medical-industrial complex"), and the " medical-legal complex". The people who actually provide the care– the doctors, nurses, therapists, and pharmacists are a tiny fraction of the cost of healthcare.

    Please start to have discussions with real people who provide care so that the public can hear some real world stories and thus spark a true public discussion .

    March 12, 2009 at 1:28 am |
  4. Annie Kate

    Yes, the doctor fees here are too high; the cost of everything in medicine is too high; we are tested for things that have no bearing on our illness; and yes there is a great deal of waste. If Wal-mart can sell some prescription meds for $4.00 for a month's supply why does it cost that much per pill in the hospital? The greed and waste that exists in our system is terrible and as usual the little guy is the one suffering from it. I was kind of surprised that India has better hospitals than us...but then again I shouldn't have been – seems like in health care every country is miles ahead of us.

    March 11, 2009 at 8:23 pm |
  5. Jim M

    Danielle, a question for Dr. Gupta:

    How is medical ligation handled in the countries he visited?

    March 11, 2009 at 7:58 pm |
  6. Mike

    This article is not at all helpful. The author offers a few anecdotes, but not enough real data to make any meaningful comparisons or draw any conclusions. Costs are substantially lower in India than the US in nearly every category from manufacturing to software development, so it is no surprise to find lower costs there for medical procedures as well. A more telling comparison would be to visit another highly developed country, such as Germany or Norway, and compare medical costs with them.

    March 11, 2009 at 7:41 pm |
  7. Jeanette

    Today in our hospital world everything is disposable. What happened to the sterilization methods we used back in the fifties? You didn't hear of all the infections that you hear of today either. Practically everybody I know who has been in the hospital comes out with some kind of an infection, two in my own family. One my 95 year old mother who came out with a MRSA infection (very dangerous) from a catheter.

    It has to be cheaper to reuse things instead of throwing everything away. That has to be part of the rising costs in todays times. I was in the hospital for 5 days recently and never once saw anybody come in to clean the floors in my room. With the price they charge they certainly could afford someone to clean daily.

    March 11, 2009 at 6:17 pm |
  8. Mari, Salt Lake City

    Good, I am glad to hear that Dr. Gupta & CNN will be doing a special on healthcare. A few months ago PBS's Frontline did a special on healthcare featuring several countrie; Taiwan, Germany, Japan to name a few.

    We need national healthcare, it will SAVE businesses billions; it will help ALL Americans, especially the working poor and SMALL business owners! And it will quell the bankruptcies filed daily by millions of Americans who can not afford to pay medical bills.

    March 11, 2009 at 5:30 pm |
  9. Eric Roberts, Aurora, IL

    I am one of the uninsured. I am a diabetic, so the insurance comapnies won't touch me and as a contract employee, I don;t have access to employer sponsored insurance. I just got a bill from the locval hospital for a 4 day star that is going to cost me 19,855.00. I would love to know what that was for. It certainly wasn't the crappy food. I had (and since dropped) a psuedo insurance plan, but they don;t cover anything for hospitalization because this can be conencted to my pre-existing condition (something they do not cover for the first year...gee thanks)I have since dropped them since they don;t cover brand name drugs (all of my insulin is brand name since federal law prevents generics of that drug type), so they were pretty useless to me. Glad I spent that $370 last month on them.

    -a very angry veteran who's head is quickly going under

    March 11, 2009 at 5:17 pm |
  10. Joanne Pacicca, Solvay, NY

    How about the fact that my prescription, generic inhaler for asthma costs $17.00. When hospitalized 10 years ago, whereupon the hospital charged the insurance carrier for the meds (among all other things)...it billed out at $97.00.!

    That same year, the hospital called for a donation. I told the caller that my insurance company already gave.

    March 11, 2009 at 4:38 pm |
  11. Cindy

    I can answer in one word why America's health care is way higher than other countries...GREED!!

    Cindy..Ga.

    March 11, 2009 at 4:27 pm |