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Health systems look to make San Diego a medical tourism hub

Four San Diego healthcare organizations have come together to promote the city's position as a healthcare and biotechnology development hub.

It's all part of DestinationCare San Diego, a medical tourism program launched in November. The program involves UC San Diego Health System, Scripps Health, Sharp HealthCare and Rady Children's Hospital, which are working with the San Diego Tourism Authority on the initiative.

At the core of the program is the idea San Diego is home to beaches and mild weather, as well as excellent clinicians and the latest medical technology and resources.

"The goal is to have people choose healthcare in San Diego who otherwise wouldn't have thought about it," says Larry Friedman, MD, associate dean of clinical affairs and professor of clinical medicine and pediatrics at UC San Diego Health.

Details about the DestinationCare program are still being developed. But Dr. Friedman says the program, for now, is primarily driven by a smart website. The website advertises the city itself as well as specific healthcare organizations.

"Here, world-class hospitals and clinics share the same beach-front facilities as the greatest, most innovative biotech research institutions and companies. Some of the best medicine in America is easily available in the remarkable mix of healthcare providers," the website reads.

Patients from across the U.S. and around the world travel to the four healthcare organizations participating in the DestinationCare program to receive treatment. For example, UC San Diego Health spokesperson Jacqueline Carr says her organization, which is known for its complex surgical treatment of pulmonary clots, sees a majority of its referrals for this surgery now coming from outside the San Diego region including internationally.  

Although UC San Diego Health, Scripps Health, Sharp HealthCare and Rady Children's Hospital are the initial program participants, more healthcare organizations are expected to join in the future.

Initial funding for DestinationCare came from the tourism authority and veteran philanthropist Malin Burnham, who donated $100,000 to the initiative, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Eventually, though, the program is anticipated to sustain itself, possibly through commissions hotels take in from visiting patients, hospital payments or other sources, Joe Terzi, the tourism authority's president and CEO, said in the report.

Overall, Dr. Friedman believes the program will help raise awareness of medical advances in San Diego that may not be available to out-of-town patients in their areas.

Ms. Carr says becoming a medical care destination also means offering patients the best possible experience as far as service quality, affordability, housing, transportation and other needs.


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