Tooth and Consequences: Fla. Woman Faces Medical Tourism Nightmare

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Medical tourism
Medical tourism is nothing new: For years, media outlets, including this one, have been reporting on the benefits of going to other countries for expensive medical procedures. But sometimes, cheap medical work can come with a high price -- as the recent case of a Florida woman illustrates.

On Wednesday, WFTV, an ABC affiliate in Central Florida, reported on the case of Helen Hyjek, a Palm Coast woman who traveled to Costa Rica for dental implants. According to Hyjek, the implanted teeth were too large and were poorly aligned. Today, she claims, she is in constant pain, has bleeding gums, and can't eat solid food.

Helen HyjekHyjek's choice to have her dental work done in Costa Rica isn't unusual, says Judy Orchard, communications manager for Patients Beyond Borders, a medical travel advisory group. It's one of the top 10 destinations for medical travel: Procedures there can cost 40% to 65% less than in the U.S.

"You wouldn't go to Costa Rica for a cavity or a crown," Orchard explains, but "many baby boomers need hundreds or thousands of dollars worth of work done," and medical tourism can help bring those costs back within reason.

It's pretty American-friendly, and traveling there for follow-up is relatively inexpensive," says Orchard. " However, she admits that there can be a downside to getting dental work done in the Central American country: As Hyjek's story illustrates, American patients who have problems with their Costa Rican dental work don't have any legal recourse.

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This doesn't mean that Americans traveling abroad for health care have to go in blind. Orchard points out that the Joint Commission International, a U.S.-based organization, inspects and accredits foreign hospitals. The foreign arm of America's accrediting group, JCI works to insure a high level of patient care in non-U.S. hospitals.

"Not knowing the facility [Hyjek] went to, it's hard to comment on this story," Orchard notes. "But we've found that more reputable facilities will work with you to ensure your satisfaction." The key, she claims, is looking beyond the price. "You have to do your due diligence."

Correction: an earlier version of this story stated that Ms. Orchard said some Baby Boomers spend "hundreds of thousands" on dental work. She actually said "hundreds or thousands," and the story has been edited accordingly.

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Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at bruce.watson@teamaol.com, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.

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