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Miami Proactively Seeking Medical Tourism

James W. Shindell

Though the multi-billion dollar medical tourism industry is dominated by Asia, it is on the rise in the United States, with many wealthy international patients eyeing the U.S.’s innovative treatments in areas such as orthopedic and cosmetic surgery and cancer treatments. American hospitals are increasingly recognizing that, in addition to prestige, this niche industry can increase their bottom lines, particularly those negatively impacted by recent healthcare reforms.

Tricia Johnson of Rush University, speaking at an annual meeting of the Center for Medical Tourism Research, addresses the fact that while international patients are a small portion of a hospital’s volume, they generate substantial revenue for them -  more revenue per stay than American patients.

The international data collection firm, Qsample, estimates that in 2008 over 400,000 foreign residents visited the U.S., spending $5 billion on medical procedures.  And when asking foreign residents “which country they would consider for medical tourism, the highest numbers were for the U.S. (10%).”

Miami has been proactive in gaining a big share of these medical tourism dollars. The Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau has partnered with local hospitals and medical services to create a medical tourism marketing campaign targeting primarily Central and South Americans.  This campaign, suitably named the “Miami Medical Experience,” focuses on the quality of Miami’s hospitals and the services they offer to international patients.

While largely successful, Miami may soon have competition from the rest of the state for medical tourism revenue if a bill aimed at bringing more medical tourists to Florida passes.  The bill, SB 1150, proposed by Florida state Senator Aaron Bean, is an advertising campaign that promotes the entire state’s healthcare industry at a cost to the taxpayers of $3.5 million a year for four years.  The International Medical Travel Journal, explains that “in 2013, Florida had 92 million visitors from overseas and other US states, with 100 million expected for 2014. Bean’s logic is that medical tourists spend more money than regular tourists. So the bill aims to be a vehicle for local hospitals, clinics and hotels to ask to be included in a state- sponsored promotion.”

The Visit Florida campaign, the IMTJ adds, would also provide “matching grants to local economic development groups, which would coordinate businesses to respond to medical tourists’ needs.”  This second part of the bill is important as independent healthcare market research company, Stackpole and Associates, reports that many hospitals’ international patient departments currently “receive little training to meet the needs of global health travelers.” This is where Miami could benefit from this legislation, as the city will need to move beyond marketing to continue to grow its medical tourism industry.

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