Spend your next holiday in hospital

By Anthea Gerrie, September 16, 2010
Diagnostic holidays to exotic destinations are gaining in  popularity

Diagnostic holidays to exotic destinations are gaining in popularity

Having your arteries scanned may seem an odd thing to do at Waikiki Beach, but Hawaii, with its surf and all the accoutrements of island life, is a great place to get a personal MOT. As is the lakeside resort of Montreux, the California desert playground of Palm Springs or the world-class cities of London and Tel Aviv.

All these holiday destinations now attract not only conventional tourists but medical ones too, many of them businesspeople who like to use their downtime combining a vacation with a thorough check-up by doctors whose clinics boast the most up-to-date technology.

I speak as one who has also had her heart tested in Switzerland, ovaries scanned in London and bone density measured in California. In fact had it not been for La Quinta, where most people spend their time swimming or playing tennis, I would never have had access to the bone density scanning equipment which is still a rarity in the UK and not available to symptomless patients like myself.

Yet the machine diagnosed my osteoporosis many years before I became a prime candidate, giving me the chance to build back healthy bones with medication before I reached the dangerous fall-and-fracture stage.

Bones are the least of the problems which can come with middle age, which remain unidentified in a country like ours with no culture of routine annual check-ups.

Diagnostic holidays to exotic destinations are gaining in popularity

Clinics which offer sophisticated on-site equipment and immediate referrals to specialists can save lives by fast-tracking treatment if, heaven forbid, a tumour or a blocked artery should be spotted. And they are all the more likely to be detected when the clinic offers on-site ultrasound and MRI scans, rare in British facilities which screen the healthy, but which are available at the Preventicum clinic.

This smart, plush Shepherd's Bush facility resembles a hotel more than a clinic, with its snazzy wallpaper and rooms equipped with flat-screen TV, comfy armchairs and stylish wardrobes - not to mention the complimentary slippers.

But you will not be in that room for long, as I discovered running from blood tests (40 different analyses) to ultra-sound imaging to heart and fitness testing on a treadmill hooked up to an ECG machine to the MRI suite, all topped and tailed by the kind of in-depth discussion of my lifestyle with the medical director that you are never going to get with your GP.

My particular concern - and everyone has one - was my ovaries, and Preventicum has a new diagnostic blood test more reliable as a marker for ovarian cancer than the bog-standard CA-125 which the NHS offers.

They will also give you the reassurance of looking at your ovaries on ultrasound and, if necessary, MRI, which certainly would not be possible under the NHS without definitive symptoms of disease.

Few of us know what "definitive" means, so we worry, and I was so relieved to be told that my burgeoning spare tyre was nothing more sinister than fat. Had I been more typical, I might have found that this fat had raised my blood pressure and cholesterol and made me diabetic.

Even though I got the all-clear on all fronts, I have been motivated to lose my excess weight before it gives me the high blood sugar and arthritis which could be on the cards.

You can get your sophisticated tests and pep talk on how to lead a better lifestyle in Israel as easily as in London, California or Switzerland. Tel Hashomer in Tel Aviv, which has a dedicated medical tourism department, receives many foreign visitors at the executive screening centre where Israeli firms send their top managers.

Tel Hashomer and Preventicum differ from residential facilities like La Quinta, which is a full-blown resort, and the Hilton Hawaiian Village, which happens to have the only $2m scanner in the state as an addition to its beach and spa facilities (the machine has since moved to a purpose-built health centre, for those fancying a Honolulu-based check-up).

But most non-residential set-ups establish ties with local hotels - Preventicum offers preferential rates at both the Dorchester and the K-West boutique hotel near the clinic. Clinique La Prairie, in a suburb of Montreux on Lake Geneva, is something else again - a medically-oriented spa which also has consultants on the premises.

But every good screening clinic can arrange fast referrals to top local specialists; many business visitors like to undergo any investigations which prove necessary during the same period of downtime they have set aside for monitoring their health.

Private screening is never cheap, though Tel Hashomer is said to be good value from a British perspective.But when you think about what you get from treating yourself to a personal MOT, the rewards are priceless.

At the very least, there is reassurance or an early wake-up call; at the best, a prescription for a healthier way of life on which you can embark the very next day. I got to save my bones with early intervention, and those with early signs of heart disease, furred arteries or cancer actually get the chance to save their lives.

    Last updated: 10:28am, September 16 2010