Need surgery, will travel
Ah, summer: the time to break free of routine, plan a trip, and save thousands of dollars or receive better care on a knee replacement by having the surgery in Argentina. Or New York. Or Florida.
Medical tourism — traveling to another state or country to seek medical treatment — has become a multibillion-dollar industry worldwide.
Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are home to world-class medical centers. About 0.5% of all people entering the U.S. by air from other countries do so to seek medical care. As of 2013, about 15% of revenue at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia came from fees paid by non-regional patients. Five percent of those patients came from abroad, about 80 percent from the Middle East.
The International Services office at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of University of Pittsburgh Medical Center attracts out-of-state patients by helping families figure out where to stay, how to pay for care, and by offering dietary options and translation services.
To add patients and build revenue, some medical providers build affiliates in other countries. UPMC, for instance, manages a transplant hospital and cancer treatment facilities in Italy.
Meanwhile, an estimated 750,000 Americans travel outside the U.S. annually for orthopedic surgery, dentistry, oncological care, and other treatments, citing lower costs as their primary reason for doing so. By one estimate, the revenue losses to the U.S. could be as much as $15 billion.
To capture a piece of that, some states are trying to draw domestic medical travel by touting specialty care or, say, the pleasure of spending one’s recovery on Florida’s beaches.
Rhode Island approved $48 million for a new medical complex that encompasses retail and commercial space, hotel rooms, medical research offices, and medical care, so that visitors don’t have to go far to find what they need. In 2015, Minnesota allocated $6.5 billion for a similar facility, the Destination Medical Center. The complex has the Mayo Clinic as its anchor and is envisioned as a medical innovation center, aiming to draw patients and researchers alike. In 2014, Florida awarded $5 million in grants to promote medical tourism; nearly half of the money went to marketing efforts.
So far, similar proposals have not been made in Pennsylvania’s legislature.
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