How Scripps and Baptist Health South Florida are responding to medical tourism growth

Medical tourism has gained popularity in recent years as people across the world look to access less expensive or better quality medical treatment.

Patients Beyond Borders estimates that the worldwide market for international patient care is approximately $40 billion today, and is expected to grow at a rate of at least 15 percent year-over-year.

More specifically, 14 million patients use medical services outside of their country of residence each year, according to Patients Beyond Borders. On average, patients spend between $3,800 and $6,000 per visit.

Many of these patients are looking to access less expensive or better quality medical treatment, but nationality is also a factor, according to George Foyo, chief administrative officer of Coral Gables-based Baptist Health South Florida. He says recent immigrants from other countries, particularly Latin American countries, prefer to go back to their home country for healthcare.

"People in Miami will go back to Colombia, for instance. It's because of cost but also because of familiarity and comfort," he says.

Top destinations for medical tourism include Costa Rica, Colombia, Mexico, Malaysia and Thailand, according to The Huffington Post. Patients are attracted to these locations for various reasons. For instance, Mexico's combination of U.S.-trained physicians, modern hospitals, low prices and proximity to the U.S. has made the country a popular medical destination for U.S. residents. Medical tourism has taken off in Malaysia and gained fame globally for its affordable medical prices. And the World Health Organization ranked Costa Rica's healthcare system slightly above that of the U.S. this year.

India, Israel and the United States are also popular destinations for medical tourism.

Given this burgeoning medical tourism industry, there is no doubt the impact of both inbound and outbound medical tourism is significant. And hospitals and health systems, particularly those close to the nation's southernmost borders, are responding.

Baptist Health South Florida

Baptist Health South Florida sees more than 10,000 patients each year from outside the U.S., primarily from the Caribbean and Latin America regions. The hospital network also cares for a significant number of patients from Europe, Asia and Canada.

Attracting patients from other countries is part of the system's strategic focus. Baptist Health has a local presence in about 14 countries, including Colombia, Trinidad, Peru and Grand Cayman. That presence typically involves marketing work to promote Baptist Health services and recruit patients to Florida. In fact, the system has a team exclusively dedicated to promoting and selling services in the greater Latin America regions.

For patients who do come to Florida for treatment, the organization provides concierge services.

"We talk with them before they come and allocate them based o their need to a specific doctor...We hold their hands all the way through to make it most comfortable for them," Mr. Foyo says. "It's a very different business from the typical healthcare business. It is a high-touch business."

Medical tourism is "a very exciting business. It's going to be growing significantly over the coming years with the advent of technology for the delivery of medical services. We have been there and plan to continue to be there," Mr. Foyo says.

Baptist Health South Florida is already using technology to expand care delivery abroad.

Mr. Foyo says the system is developing more second-opinion programs where the organization remotely can interact with international patients and their physicians and make treatment recommendations.

Another way Baptist Health South Florida will continue to be involved in medical tourism is with its new $450 million Miami Cancer Institute, which is scheduled to open in January. It will feature the first proton therapy center in south Florida.

The Miami Cancer Institute will also house a clinical cancer center, a cancer research facility, a new inpatient floor solely for cancer patients and offices for cancer specialists. Its clinical services will include bone marrow transplants, diagnostic imaging, infusion chemotherapy and multiple types of radiation therapies.

Once the cancer center is up and running, Baptist Health South Florida expects to have a number of international patients coming to the facility.

At the same time, the organization, which once had the predominant market share in the Cayman Islands, has seen a spike in competition in that area. That is where one of India's most renowned heart surgeons Devi Shetty, MBBS, MS, took a model of healthcare that he has already had significant success with in India and transferred it to Health City Cayman Islands. The facility opened in 2014 thanks to a partnership between Narayana Health, a system of cardiac-care hospitals across India, and St. Louis -based Ascension.

Unlike Ascension, Baptist Health South Florida doesn't invest in local facilities in the Cayman Islands for treatment but instead focuses on bringing patients to Florida.

To attract international patients, Mr. Foyo says the health system focuses on centers of excellence, such as orthopedics, neurology and heart.

"Those are typically where the highest demand is for services that are not the quality they are in U.S.," Mr. Foyo says. "People who come here come for quality and many can afford to come here."

Scripps Health

Florida is not the only place where hospitals are responding to medical tourism.

San Diego-based Scripps Health continues to see patients from across the globe come to its facilities, seeking higher end services that are not provided in their countries, says Tim Collins, corporate vice president of operations and research at Scripps.

"Initially, we had a very strong presence in Mexico and South America because of our geography. Over time, as physicians that have come from foreign countries realize that Scripps can provide services to patients in a culturally sensitive way, they recommend Scripps for their friends or relatives. We consider that a real compliment," he says.

Scripps seeks to attract international patients that need specialized care that is not available in a patient's city or country. Mr. Collins specifically cited the Scripps Proton Therapy Center, where patients from around the world come for care.

To take care of these patients, Scripps works with concierge companies, hotels, translation companies, transportation companies and local tourist attractions, Mr. Collins says. The organization has also developed relationships with cultural organizations that help patients access their favorite foods or other comforts of home while in California.

Like Baptist Health South Florida, Scripps collaborates extensively with the healthcare providers that are located in a patient's native country. Mr. Collins says patients are usually referred by their local physicians, and Scripps prefers that the physicians remain involved in the patient's treatment.

"We have found that patients receive much better care overall when we view the referring physician as part of the care pathway, and keeping the local physician involved in the care has proven to be important to creating a positive patient experience," he says.


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