South Florida Hospital News
Wednesday May 27, 2020

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January 2010 - Volume 6 - Issue 7




Medical Tourism – Patients are Doing Their Homework

Medical Tourism is a phenomenon created as a result of economic factors influencing people’s access to affordable healthcare and their access to quality healthcare. In recent years, the industry has become very completive and now patients are doing their homework - researching services and providers extensively and comparing various factors and considerations.

There are two basic categories of patients; those seeking healthcare outside of the U.S. and those considering traveling to the U.S. for healthcare services.

Those seeking care outside of the U.S. are doing so mainly for economic reasons. In 2008, it was estimated that as many as 750,000 Americans went abroad for healthcare and spent $15 billion for services. It is no surprise that over 50 countries now list Medical Tourism as a "national industry." In the U.S., there are over 50 million individuals who are uninsured or underinsured, including many who do not qualify for Medicaid or Medicare benefits, thus they are having to pay 100% of a bill for healthcare services whether or not they receive a discount. For example; the fees for healthcare services in Panama are typically 40 – 70% of the costs in the U.S., which could equate to a saving as much as $50,000 for hip replacement surgery. It is estimated that only 30% travel for this reason, while many others travel for treatments or services not covered by their insurance carriers. As a result, opportunities have been created to access healthcare at international destinations. The opportunity for providers based in the U.S. is to develop services abroad and market to this consumer base or affiliate with an established provider organization in the foreign country, which is the easiest and usually preferred option since the infrastructure and other issues related to foreign ownership and operations is in place.

For those considering traveling to the U.S. for healthcare services, many are doing so for quality of care and safety reasons. In 2008, it was estimated that 125,000 traveled to the U.S. for healthcare, with 85,000 receiving in-patient care. Although many foreign countries have exceptional healthcare services, many do not have the healthcare providers that possess the experience and/or training when compared to their counterparts in the U.S. In addition, many services, techniques, procedures, specialized equipment, treatments, and medications are only available here in the U.S. And since many of the patients have been treated in their home countries with limited success, they are seeking advanced care elsewhere. For example; for organ transplant surgery, most seek care in the U.S. According to the new statistics released by Global Industry Analysts, Inc. the organ transplant market is expected to reach 115,000 procedures by the year 2012 with estimated revenues of $5.25 billion.

Patients are doing their homework when seeking care abroad, and even more than they have been previously when seeking care in their home country. Patients are now considering other factors, including;

- Hospital Accreditation
- Outcomes
- Continuity of Care
- Traveling with a Medical Problem
- Physician Experience, Training, and CME’s
- Where will services be provided in the event of Bad Outcomes?
- Accommodations for Patient Recovery and Family
- Language & Cultural Issues
- Medical Records Distribution and Privacy

Many Hospitals, in addition to many medical tourism organizations, can assist patients in many ways, including procedure and travel arrangements, accommodations, medical and record transfer. Some now even offer Initial Consultations with medical staff to determine a patient’s specific need and address questions prior to finalizing arrangements, as this can provide additional information for the hospital and staff, as well as provide some comfort to the patient and their family.

Some hospitals and providers catering to the Medical Tourism population have invested heavily in infrastructure including state of the art technology, patient suites, and customer service. In addition, some facilities are seeking accreditation from Joint Commission International (JCI) as a way to differentiate themselves by demonstrating their commitment to quality. Accreditation is an option which most facilities seek to differentiate themselves from competitors. The JCI accreditation sets standard requirements designed to improve the quality of care and safety. The following includes a partial list of criteria that JCI monitors:

  • Coverage from Patient Entry to Discharge
  • Patient Safety
  • Access to Continuity of Care
  • Assessment and Care Process
  • Education and Rights of Individuals
  • Management Information and Human Resources
  • Quality Leadership
  • Infection Control
  • Facility Management
Obviously, a hospital or provider based in the U.S. can take advantage of this expanding opportunity in Medical Tourism by adapting its services and offering their services to these foreign markets. In addition, a provider can also provide their services abroad via establishing a base of operations in the foreign countries identified as those with the best potential. But the best opportunity is for those providers that offer both, since marketing to this foreign population is costly and nothing works better than having a local operation for exposure and addressing the discomfort many patients would feel traveling outside of their country. In addition, providing some services in the foreign country leads to referrals of more complicated cases and other cases that would be provided in the U.S.

Medical Tourism can be a viable service for many providers here in the U.S. to offer and for those who need access to quality, affordable healthcare. Just be prepared and realize that patients are doing their homework!

Emilio M. Nuñez, M.B.A. is Executive Director of University of Miami - International Medicine Institute. (UM-IMI). For more information, call (305) 243-9100 or contact or visit

Michael W. Kesti is President & CEO of Health Ventures, Inc. For more information, call (305)323-2903, contact or visit

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