Why would a US patient travel to Wales for sinus surgery?

A recent news story on CNN attracted my interest when it featured a US patient who travelled to Wales (in the United Kingdom) for sinus surgery to save money. It was headlined “’I can’t afford surgery in the U.S.,’ says bargain shopper”. It’s an interesting story which shows how the media can sometimes put a slant on a story to create news, but it does highlight some real opportunities for medical tourism providers.
The story (view the CNN video) tells us about Godfrey Davies, an American, who needed sinus surgery. It tells how he “set out on a mission to find an affordable surgeon”, and was appalled at the costs that he was going to incur in the USA. The story was picked up by a multitude of other web sites who took it at face value.
If you view the video, you get one impression. If you dig a little deeper, you actually get to understand the full story and where this patient fits within the medical tourism marketplace.
As a Brit, I found it a bit odd when I viewed the video. My first impression? Here’s a story about an American guy travelling all the way to Wales for surgery……. Why would he do this? And why Wales? But then I dug deeper. It was in fact a story about someone who started life as a “Welsh bloke”, became an “American guy” and went home for an operation. There’s a clue in his name (Davies…it’s a Welsh surname) and in his slightly odd accent (It’s a Welsh accent). Godfrey comes from Wales. It is where his family lives. He’s a UK and a US passport holder. He married an American and became a US citizen in 2002. He doesn’t have health insurance in the US because he believes that the quoted premium of $1,000 per month is too much. He says that “with the deductible and co-pay, I would have had to pay more in over three and a half months than coming home to Wales.”
So, what can medical tourism businesses learn from this story?
Firstly, don’t take news stories at face value. There’s sometimes an underlying logic to a news story which the media doesn’t always fully expose. It may make the news less newsworthy. In this case, it’s understandable why a Welshman (as opposed to an American) might choose Wales as a medical tourism destination.
Secondly, it highlights one of the key factors in why people select medical tourism destinations. Godfrey Davies chose Wales because it is an excellent cultural match, there is no language problem for him, and he feels 100% safe there. And it’s cheap!
Godfrey went to the BMI Werndale Hospital in Bancyfelin, Carmarthenshire. It is part of BMI Healthcare, Britain’s leading provider of independent healthcare with nearly seventy hospitals and clinics nationwide. To give you another example, I myself had a total knee replacement at one of BMI Healthcare’s hospitals near London, The BMI Clementine Churchill Hospital. How much would it cost for a knee replacement in an American hospital? $50,000. How much did it cost me in the UK? £10,000 all in ($15,000). The UK price is cheaper than Korea ($17,800), and not far off the prices that Americans pay in countries such as Thailand ($12,000) and Singapore ($10,800). Given the cultural and language match, and the lower travel cost, if you were an American which destination would you choose?
Thirdly, it’s a great example of the kind of American medical tourists that some medical tourism businesses should be targeting….. people from their own country. Thus, the biggest and most realistic opportunity in the USA for Korea based medical tourism providers is most likely to be Korean Americans. Target the easy win, if you want to succeed.
Fourthly, it supports the argument that the UK might actually be an attractive medical tourism destination for US patients. Despite the different accent, there’s no language barrier! There’s a public healthcare system that delivers excellent outcomes. And there’s a private hospital system that already provides treatment for patients from all over the world who travel to the UK to access healthcare quality and expertise. And…… as Godfrey Davies has demonstrated, you can save an awful lot of money over UK prices.
How much does private treatment cost in the UK?
In addition to Treatment Abroad, we also run various UK health information sites. One of these is Private Healthcare UK. It will tell you all you need to know about private treatment in the UK.
If you want to know what UK private treatment costs go to Private hospital treatment – What does it cost? and select an operation.
And if you’re an American (or a Welshman) and you want to follow in Godfrey Davies’ footsteps, you can get a quote for UK surgery by completing the enquiry form for UK private hospital treatment.


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As Editor in Chief of International Medical Travel Journal (IMTJ) and a Healthcare Consultant for LaingBuisson, Keith Pollard is one of Europe’s leading experts on private healthcare, medical tourism and cross border healthcare, providing consultancy and research services, and attending and contributing to major conferences across the world on the subject. He has been involved in private healthcare, medical travel and cross border healthcare since the 1990s. His career has embraced the management of private hospitals in the UK, research and feasibility studies for healthcare ventures, the marketing and business development aspects of healthcare and medical travel and publishing, research and consultancy on cross border healthcare.