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Doctors & Hospitals for Expats in the United States Of America

Submitted: August 2013

Most healthcare providers in the United States generally run along free enterprise lines, and healthcare standards are very high. Availability of doctors and high-technology equipment should not be a problem, unless you live in a remote place and you require something very specific. Waiting times are fair, though it’s always on a case-by-case basis.

When it comes to doctors and hospitals, the big issue is primarily a matter of consumer choice.

As the US attracts millions of expatriates from all over the world, it is largely possible to find healthcare professionals from your home country. However, the US is a very lucrative place for foreign doctors, as it is by far the most expensive country in the world when it comes to healthcare. There are many reasons for this, including:

  • Largely deregulated prices
  • High overhead costs
  • Little pressure on the buy side to negotiate prices down (bills are not paid out-of-pocket)
  • High risk of litigation against doctors (this raises their professional insurance premiums)

If you are not happy with the US healthcare system, you can still consider postponing treatment until after you leave the US. There are actually huge potential savings to make, even on a simple consultation with a general practitioner. If you live close to the Canadian border, you might wish to consider paying your large items of expenditure there. In any event, you must go to a US hospital if you are in an emergency situation. See Health Emergencies for Expats in the US.

A US healthcare provider may ask for your social security number. If you don’t have any, be upfront and ask them to identify you in another way. See National Health Service for Expats in the US.

Finding a general practitioner

You should look for a good general practitioner (GP) as soon as possible. A GP may refer you to a specialist or to a hospital if he believes you need it. Going directly to the hospital is likely to be a more expensive option, and you should do this only in an emergency.

Americans don’t really use the term “general practitioner”. Instead, you are more likely to hear about “primary care physicians” or “family practitioners” (FPs).

Don’t be blurred by the apparent large availability of healthcare services in the US. Feel free to:

  • check how many doctors and hospitals there are in your local area;
  • check their charges, opening hours, and patient feedback/satisfaction rate;
  • ask your doctor if he has an out-of-hours service See Health Emergencies for Expats in the US;
  • share your experiences with friends of yours, and be open to what they have to say.

Word of mouth can help you determine if a specific doctor or hospital is trustworthy or not. You are always better off knowing in advance who you can trust.

Don’t overdo it

US doctors (and to some extent US citizens) are reportedly tempted to over-test and over-treat. This is certainly a lucrative business, but it’s also about avoiding litigation. Not only are these practices very expensive, but they are not always clinically necessary, and they are more likely than not to create undesirable patient anxiety.

Don’t forget what you come for, and do assess carefully what you really need. When a US doctor proposes plenty of tests, or suggests that you should go ahead with something big like a caesarean or a knee replacement, think twice. Feel free to be upfront and to highlight your concerns, but don’t rule out something that you medically need either.

Public hospitals

You might have public hospitals in your local area. These hospitals are quite overstretched, and you might face long waiting lists if you are applying for outpatient treatment.

Public hospitals might be helpful if you are not insured and you can’t afford private sector healthcare costs. Public hospitals are not free and they are still quite expensive, but much less so than their private sector counterparts.

Additionally, a public hospital may not require you to pay the bill in advance.

 

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