$5 billion medical tourism jackpot lures Miami hospitals
By Marilyn Bowden
Medical tourism — bringing patients from other countries to the US for treatment — is big business, and local hospitals are partnering with the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau to market Miami as a destination for international patients.
According to a recent study by Deloitte, in 2008 more than 400,000 international patients came to the US for medical care, spending close to $5 billion ญญ— and this year there may be twice that many.
Salud Miami, an effort among healthcare providers in the late 1990s to market the destination, fell by the wayside due to conflicts among members who were competing with each other for medical tourism dollars, said Rolando Aedo, the bureau's executive vice president and chief marketing officer.
"Medical tourism never went away, but the marketing and packaging of it did," he said. "It's been a top performer for many years."
About two years ago, Mr. Aedo said, the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce's Healthcare Group approached the bureau about helping them develop a sales and marketing plan.
"They wanted to put a special emphasis on medical tourism, bringing all the hospitals in the area together again," he said. "We ended up pretty much taking over the marketing end."
The bureau created a brochure in English and Spanish that's now bring translated into Portuguese, Mr. Aedo said, and created the website Miamihealthcare.org.
The bureau also actively promotes medical tourism at targeted trade shows, he said, such as last year's World Medical Tourism Congress in Los Angeles. Plans are to do the same at this year's congress next month in Chicago.
"Our hope is to bring that to Miami in the near future," he said. "For us, it's not only about marketing our world-class hospitals, but attracting more medical and pharmaceutical conferences to Miami. This is an area where our Conventions Sales Department are seeing a lot of success."
Initial discussions with Miami International Airport are under way, Mr. Aedo said, on how to make the entry process for international patients with special needs as seamless as possible.
Baptist Health South Florida has been actively involved in medical tourism for about 13 years, said Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer George Foyo.
"We have several centers of excellence to market, and our marketing is country-specific," he said. "In some countries, oncology is a big issue; in others it might be cardiology. It depends on where their research is not up to date."
Self-pay patients used to make up the majority of international patients, but now, Mr. Foyo said, insurance companies are playing a bigger role. "They are at the forefront of our marketing strategies. We create relationships with insurance companies that send patients to us to make sure they understand that we are very competitive."
Patients come primarily from Latin America, the Caribbean and Canada, he said, and the fact that they are traveling to another country means they need a broader range of services than most domestic patients.
"Our concierge services can help with lodging for the family, transportation and other needs," Mr. Foyo said.
While not all adult patients travel with their families, when the patient is a child, care of the family is an important need, said Jennifer Enfield, director of Global Health Services Business Development at Miami Children's Hospital.
"We offer help with accommodations," she said. "There are hotels nearby that provide transportation to and from the hospital as often as they need it.
"We can provide an apartment at our Devonshire Apartments at reasonable rates, depending on availability, or in Global Health House for families that have limited funds or that need to be close to a child in critical care."
There's even help with religious requirements if necessary, Ms. Enfield said — for example, letting Arabic families know where to shop for halal groceries.
Like Baptist, she said, Miami Children's Hospital works closely with insurance companies even before the patients come in-country.
"Another differentiator is our Lifeflight Team, whose helicopters pick up critically ill children from Latin and the Caribbean as well as regionally. Care starts as soon as the child is on board."
International alliances such as one with the Moscow Center for Pediatric Craniofacial Surgery and Neurology in Moscow also bring patients to the Children's Hospital, Ms. Enfield said.
When Jackson Memorial Hospital's near-bankruptcy brought its budget under scrutiny this year, its International Medical Program came under fire for offering concierge-like services to international patients.
As a result, that program was removed from the auspices of the Jackson Memorial Foundation, with Jackson Health System to create an administering non-profit. No one at Jackson was available for a progress report.
Meanwhile, the concept of medical tourism is expanding.
"One thing that is evolving is life sciences," Mr. Aedo said, "and that will further solidify Miami's position. We're going to integrate it into all our platforms and websites."
Mr. Foyo said Baptist International recently signed an agreement with the government of Aruba to help it improve medical service in its country, and Baptist International is consulting on construction of a new hospital.
For Miami Children's Hospital, Ms. Enfield said, a research alliance in Colombia may lead to a telemedicine practice there.
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