Earlier in the week I read an article that said the city of Houston has now become a major medical tourism destination and will be getting 20,000 patients from abroad in the next year. Most of these patients come from Mexico and Saudi Arabia and most will be receiving high margin specialty interventions. These are patients who for the most part have means and will pay for their services directly. I am sure the rates that these patients are paying are much better than Medicare… medical tourism is big business. Medical tourism and the ability to attract patients from anywhere on the globe is a great strategy to grow business, and grow a business that delivers a terrific margin, in a field that is otherwise experiencing declining margins in almost every other area.

So to no one’s surprise, medical tourism is increasing around the world. As a consequence, from a local perspective, the whole world is now your competitor. Many of our domestic institutions, such as those mentioned in Houston, are now investing heavily in the prospect of attracting well-paying patients from around the world. By the same token, health care systems in other countries are trying to attract patients from the United States. Look what is going on in the Cayman Islands for example. Health City Cayman Islands is a partnership with Dr. Devi Shetty of Narayana Health and Ascension here in the United States, that will provide cardiac and other services in a high quality, cost-effective manner. They are looking to get patients from all over the world, including of course, the United States. And it’s care in the beautiful tropical Cayman Islands!

From a medical tourism perspective, who cares if the patient comes from the Middle East or comes from the adjacent state. These are patients who have resources and are making decisions to receive medical care from outside of their geographic area. This is a unique opportunity to increase market share and increase margin.

But don’t think of medical tourism as simply a way to attract international patients– or lose present patients who elect to leave this country to receive medical care. I look at this phenomenon as simply an extension of what we are already seeing in transparency…. the increasingly informed consumer will make medical decisions based upon Value. Patients with resources have the means to go somewhere else…. and those are precisely the patients that every system must retain. The very patients we most want to keep in our facilities are those who have the resources to go anywhere else in the world. And they now have many suitors.

So there is a catch:

Medical tourism destinations will only be successful if they can prove their outcomes in quality, satisfaction and cost-effectiveness. This only serves to catalyze the need to achieve superior performance in an era of transparency of data. These organizations will be motivated more than ever before to excel in performance measures.

Medical tourism offers the ability to compete internationally for all health care organizations. It also catalyzes the need to constantly improve performance measures.

Bottom line, this is no difference than the charge that everyone of our health care instititions presently faces… we need prove our ability to provide Value to the informed consumer more than ever before.

This is an opportunity to keep the care in our community. If the Value for medical services is just as good in your town as anywhere else in the world, why would you ever want to leave….. unless of course, it is to the Cayman Islands!

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