Several recent research projects have suggested not only that the “millions of outbound US medical tourists“ claim is an exaggeration, but also that there are probably at least as many inbound medical tourists, if not more. These figures are a hotly disputed topic within the industry, but what is undeniable is that there is much activity from US hospitals seeking inbound and domestic medical tourists. More importantly, many are succeeding in attracting business. Medical tourists going to the USA do so, not for cost saving, but because they want specialist care that may not be available at home. There is a huge variation in US hospital prices, over 100% between two similar hospitals for the same operation is not unusual, and between package and list prices. US hospitals are often forced to give insurance companies massive discounts on domestic business, so want medical tourists who will pay at or just under the full list price. More US hospitals are looking to bring in patients who pay the bills themselves.
Some US hospitals have a reputation for treating certain ailments, especially rare ones such as infant heart defects. Michigan hospitals, including Henry Ford Hospital
, Detroit Medical Center
, and Beaumont Hospitals
draw patients from India, Brazil and Turkey who need procedures that are not widely available at home or who have rare conditions that cannot be treated there. Patients go to Michigan from all over the world to receive robotic procedures and high-beam radiation treatments for cancer, as well as spinal cord rehabilitation and treatments for epilepsy and blinding eye conditions in babies.
Individual hospitals are seeking affluent medical tourists from other countries, as they cannot compete on price. The University of Chicago Medical Center
and Rush University Medical Center
in Chicago both get overseas patients willing to pay $120,000 for heart surgery and $40,000 for a prostate operation. Canadian patients tired of waiting for procedures in their country’s national health system go to Michigan hospitals. Affluent Russians generally go to Los Angeles, New York or Miami. Baptist Health of Florida
claims to have treated more than 10,000 international patients, mainly from the Caribbean and Latin America, over many years. Baptist and Detroit Medical Center and Texas Children’s Hospital
in Houston all have international patient centres to offer packaged services foreign patients. 71% of Texas Children’s international patients come from Latin America, with most of the rest from the Middle East.
HCA-owned Wesley Medical Center
, a 524-bed Wichita, Kansas, hospital, has agreed to buy physician-owned, 82-bed Galichia Heart Hospital
in Wichita. The reason is that healthcare reform law includes restrictions on the growth of existing physician-owned hospitals. Galichia started to market itself as a domestic and inbound medical tourism destination in 2009, and is expected to generate $1 million for the hospital in 2011.
Las Vegas Bariatrics weight-reduction surgery clinic is seeking patients from across or outside the country. Also in Las Vegas, Cleveland Clinic
sees medical tourism as a top local priority. Medical tourism has a long history in Las Vegas, but as even top hospitals have only a handful of medical tourists a day, it is unlikely to be the answer to the city’s dramatic fall in numbers of tourists.
Those investigating the potential for Las Vegas agree that for medical tourism to succeed:
• Prices must appeal to a patient paying part or all of the bill. If an insurance company is involved, prices must be low enough to justify sending someone out of the provider network.
• People will travel to a particular hospital only if it has developed a specialty generally regarded as superior to anything else within a radius of perhaps hundreds of miles.
• People will travel to a hospital that has a wide range of specialties on site.
• The image of the location itself matters. Las Vegas does not come to mind as a destination for the ill, but one for gambling and entertainment.
The availability of inexpensive international and domestic flights has made travel more accessible and affordable to everyone. Patients from around the state of Georgia and across the country are traveling for cosmetic surgery to Atlanta, where breast augmentation procedures are state-of-the-art and highly personalized operations. The Swan Center for Plastic Surgery
has a new partnership with the nearby St. Regis Hotel Atlanta, offering discounted rates to patients.