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      Health Investigation: Traveling overseas for medical procedures

      Jim Rudee had a hip resurfacing procedure in Belguim. He said the experience was phenomenal.
      Medical tourism is becoming a billion dollar industry. Thousands of Americans are expected to travel abroad for inexpensive medical procedures in the coming year.

      Ohio resident Jim Rudee told NBC25 his story as a medical tourist in Belgium.

      50-year old Jim Rudee loves to take walks around his quiet neighborhood in Cincinnati, Ohio. He wasn??t always able to take those walks comfortable.

      ??I walked with a severe limp at the age of 46 and it wasn??t any fun,?? said Jim.

      Jim thought he was too young to get hip surgery but his pain kept getting worse.

      ??The pain got to be so bad I would wake up in the middle of the night and the bone felt like it was rubbing a nerve. I would reach down and dislocate my hip and move it to get it off that," said Jim.

      After several doctor visits, Jim said he was told he would need a procedure called hip resurfacing.

      Not wanting to see his private health insurance premium jump over the next few years, the self employed sales professional looked into traveling out of the country for the procedure and paying for it out of pocket.

      Jim scoured the internet which eventually led him to Planet Hospital and its president Rudy Rupak.

      ??He did a fantastic job of helping me put everything together,?? said Jim.

      Planet Hospital is based out of California and was created in 2002.

      The company specializes in helping people like Jim find hospitals in other countries.

      ??We thoroughly check out doctors. We??re constantly monitoring their infection rates and other problems and make sure that we are only representing quality hospitals,?? said Rupak.

      In May of 2007, Jim traveled to Belgium to have surgery.

      ??I had to trust the research I had done and trust how I felt about it,?? said Jim.

      Jim said as soon as he arrived in Belgium it felt like a vacation. He joined several other Americans who were also having surgery.

      ??Just because you were having surgery didn??t mean you couldn??t enjoy what you were doing, learning or experiencing. It was a wonderful experience,?? said Jim.

      From the doctor to the therapist, Jim says instantly everyone made him feel comfortable.

      ??Everything was focused on you getting better.??

      Jim spent just under $20,000 for his surgery and week long stay in Belgium. He says the surgery alone in the U.S, would??ve been around $50,000.

      Jim??s story is part of a growing trend known as medical tourism. Experts in the field say people can save anywhere from 20 to 75 percent on what it would cost to have a surgery in the U.S. Popular medical destinations include Thailand, Singapore and India.

      ??Rather than spend the money on expensive health care in the U.S., people are looking at quality but affordable healthcare abroad,?? said Rupak.

      But what about safety and what happens if there is a mistake? Attorney Greg Moore of Clark Hill in Birmingham handles legal documents for a number of medical tourism companies and says most of them consider that possibility.

      ??When something goes wrong in the U.S. you have to go back and have another procedure and you have to pay. Many medical tourism products will insure the risk if something goes wrong,?? said Moore.

      The American Medical Association addressed those risks and issued guidelines on medical tourism in 2008 which include going to a hospital recognized the Joint Commission International, an organization that reviews American and international facilities using United States standards.

      ??If you are going to a JCI accredited hospital there is some insurance that standards that are required there are the same that are required here,?? said Moore.

      Rupak said his company makes a point of only using JCI accredited hospitals.

      Jim says his trip was worth the risk and one he would take again and recommend to others. Jim says he plans to a lot more than just walk.

      ??My goal is to get on a plane with my bike to Denver and bike back to Ohio. It is very possible now,?? said Jim.