With 100 million visitors envisioned in the not too distant future, Florida has all the right stuff to become a major player in the emerging MEDICAL TOURISM field.
The man who arguably was history’s first medical tourist Juan Ponce de Leon arrived in Florida in April 1513 searching for the mythical Fountain of Youth. Now, five centuries after the Spanish conquistador came here seeking a cure for everything, medical tourism is coming of age in the Sunshine State.
The Florida Legislature has allocated $5 million to get the proverbial beach ball rolling on a statewide initiative headed by Visit Florida. There is national and international recognition that medical tourism is big business. In late September, the World Medical Tourism and Global Healthcare Congress in Washington expected 3,000 participants from around the globe. Next year the event will be in Orlando.
In fact, the industry is growing so rapidly, that its biggest proponents cannot agree on how big the business already is, much less how big it can be.
Will Seccombe, president and CEO of Visit Florida, the state tourism arm, is aiming high. His vision is to make Florida the No. 1 travel destination in the world. Florida is the No. 1 beach vacation destination, No. 1 for baby boomers and millennials, why not No. 1 for medical tourists?” he says.
As the lead organization for the state-funded initiative for medical tourism, his organization will work with industry partners to lay the groundwork. In late August, they had more than 100 participants on the medical tourism initiative kick-off call. I think we have to crawl, walk, run, as we develop a comprehensive medical tourism strategy for the state,” says Seccombe.
Visit Florida will use the funding to leverage partnerships with the private sector to increase medical tourism to Florida. This will be an inclusive process, CVBs, representatives from hospitals, groups and organizations around the state that have a vested interest in medical tourism. Everyone will have a seat at the table.”
A Medical Tourism task force for the state is being assembled to guide near-term and long-term strategies for promoting the industry domestically and internationally.
An initial area, that is a natural fit, is that of medical meetings. We can really zero in on medical meetings and training, continuing medical education, opportunities statewide for domestic and international physicians.
I guess I call it B2P, business to physician, in getting the referrals and word of mouth. And an understanding of the quality of care, quality of physicians, the quality of facilities we have in Florida,” says Seccombe.
Orlando-based Florida Hospital, a partner with Visit Florida, is a great example of a teaching hospital, training physicians from more than 20 different countries in the newest technologies.
With Orlando’s rapid growth as a medical city, we have the opportunity to not only provide care to millions of patients every year but to also offer
state-of-the-art training to the physicians of tomorrow,” says David Banks, chief strategy officer for Florida Hospital.
Seccombe also pointed out the natural synergy of the funding for cancer centers in the state helping the overarching mission of medical tourism.
The state received a big boost from the Legislature to the tune of $300 million over the next five years to help cancer centers at the University of Miami and the University of Florida receive the prestigious top designation from the National
Cancer Institute (NCI). Currently Tampa’s Moffitt Cancer Center is the only facility in Florida to have achieved that status.
An NCI nod for Miami’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and the UF Health Cancer Center with its Proton Therapy Institute in Jacksonville and partnership with Orlando Health would benefit many areas of the state. A study commissioned by the University of Miami reported that an NCI designation there would result in a $1.7 billion economic impact by the year 2020.
Seccombe added, It’s a huge opportunity with UF, UM and Moffit all working together — getting that alliance on the map is a win for the state.”
When embarking on our marketing campaign to capture a larger share of the medical tourism market, we must answer the question, Why Florida?”
For starters, Florida is the only state in the country with four major hub airports — Orlando, Miami, Tampa and Fort Lauderdale. This provides an ease of travel component for domestic as well as international travelers. New international carriers are aggressively being recruited to the state regularly.
And with beaches on both the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, plus amusement parks, world-class medical facilities, 409,000 hotel rooms and warm weather year-round — Florida might be just what the doctor ordered.
Many areas of the state are already luring medical tourists to their destinations. Overall, travelers from 186 countries visited Florida last year. Orlando is the most visited overseas destination in the U.S.
Florida Hospital, in addition to being a well known teaching hospital in Orlando, also is the state’s No. 1 ranked hospital for the second consecutive year, according to U.S. News & World Report. Founded in 1908, it receives patients from all over the world. As one of the largest not-for-profit hospitals in the country, Florida Hospital stretches across the state from coast to coast with 23 hospitals and more than 4,600 patient beds. It markets its services across the state, throughout the Southeast and also utilizes physician-to-physician relationships in the Caribbean and Latin America to spread the word about its renowned programs.
Another place to examine for medical tourism is Jacksonville, home of the Mayo Clinic and the University of Florida Proton Therapy Institute.
Mayo, which opened its Florida hospital in 1986, draws more than 20,000 patients per year from outside the state. Many bring at least one companion; some are accompanied by their entire families. Stays can be long depending on the treatment sought. According to Visit Jacksonville, the Mayo Clinic provides $1.6 billion in revenue to Jacksonville annually.
Mayo’s Jacksonville campus employs two Spanish translators and has information offices in Mexico City; Guatemala City; Quito, Ecuador; and Bogota, Colombia.
Patients needing treatment for particular cancer diagnoses are coming to the UF Proton Therapy Institute. Many are referred by the United Kingdom’s National Health Service, which has referred approximately 200 children and adults for proton therapy in Jacksonville since 2010.
It also has an agreement with the Norway Health Authority to treat both children and adults who have rare tumors in the nasal and sinus cavity, skull and brain. Currently there are no medical centers in Norway that offer proton therapy.
The Institute has delivered more than 177,749 cancer proton treatments to more than 5,222 patients since it opened in August 2006 and offers extensive listings of houses and condominiums for rent on its website.
Visit Jacksonville estimated medical tourism accounted for almost 46,000 room nights booked at area hotels in 2012, creating an economic impact of more than $23 million.
Miami, the gateway to Latin America, has been accommodating medical tourists for many years. Some local officials have mentioned that international patients are part of the city’s DNA.
Its name says it all – the SpringHill Suites Miami Airport East/Medical Center is an all-suite hotel located walking distance from downtown Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital.
Baptist Health South Florida offers an international services program. Last year, more than 12,000 patients from 100 countries came to Miami and Baptist, whose hospitals include: Baptist Hospital of Miami, South Miami Hospital, Miami
Cardiac & Vascular Institute, Baptist Children’s Hospital, Doctors Hospital, Homestead Hospital, West Kendall Baptist Hospital and Mariners Hospital.
The international services are led by multilingual staff that help coordinate all aspects of care: travel arrangements, such as air and ground ambulance, if required, and transfers to and from the airport; accommodations at their fully-equipped on-site apartments or at local hotels; financial services; daily hospital visits from international staff; and case monitoring by an international nurse.
Baptist Health International also works with local doctors in telemedicine (sharing live operations to teach new techniques and procedures), seminars and symposiums. And its Executive Platinum Health and Wellness Program was developed for Caribbean and Latin American corporate and government officials. The one-day health-care package offers a comprehensive physical examination with other tests and screenings.
Miami Children’s Hospital also offers an international patient services department with a multilingual staff to help foreign visitors with not only doctor’s appointments and hospital business, but hotel accommodations as well.
The Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau even has a medical tourism brochure as part of its marketing materials.
In Tampa Bay, last year more than 90 percent of patients who came to the Laser Spine Institute for minimally invasive surgeries in accredited facilities were non-local residents, many of whom came from abroad, driving nearly $14.9 million in medical tourism to the area economy. To support growth and expansion, the Institute announced plans to build a new facility to house its Tampa-based headquarters and ambulatory surgery center. The new 176,000-square-foot building is expected to open in 2016 and will accommodate 25 percent more patients.
At the University of South Florida’s Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation, also known as CAMLS, the tourists” are largely physicians from around the world who arrive in downtown Tampa for cutting-edge, simulator-based medical training. The 90,000-square-foot facility opened in February 2012.NATIONAL AND GLOBAL COMPETITION
When it comes to medical tourism dollars, Florida is facing stiff competition here and abroad. As with the industry’s financial impact, quantifying the exact number of medical tourists in the U.S. and internationally is not easy, but there are clear indicators of its growing impact. A 2009 Deloitte study estimated that at least 400,000 people traveled to the U.S. expressly for medical treatment, and subsequent reports indicate that number has grown.
While Florida’s world-class tourist attractions and emerging medical prowess give it a considerable edge, other states also can boast top-notch hospitals, pretty scenery and good shops and restaurants. The San Antonio-based CMTR presentation estimated that the Texas Medical Center in Houston received 18,000 international patients in 2009 alone. The Houston scenery may be debatable, but the center leveraged its assets, which include the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and several world-class cardiovascular programs.
Americans are medical tourists, too. The CMTR presentation, citing a survey of 1,800 participants, estimated that as many as one million Americans went abroad for medical care in 2009. Other studies indicate the figure may have been higher and that it is growing.
Second, the number of people from other countries traveling for medical care also is growing and those people don’t always choose the U.S. The market research firm Frost and Sullivan several years ago listed 14 top medical tourism destinations, and the medical travel organization Patients Beyond Borders offers a list of 11 sites. Compare the two lists, plus others readily available from other sources, and a consistent list of nine key destinations emerges. In addition to the U.S., they are (listed alphabetically): Costa Rica, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and Turkey.
The reasons patients go to these destinations usually falls broadly into two categories, elective surgeries (cosmetic and weight-loss procedures) that can be folded into broader vacations and those seeking specialized treatments for serious conditions like cancer and cardiovascular disease that cannot necessarily be found or afforded at home. One luxurious example that falls into the former category is a now-famous 2012 package offered by a Chinese travel agency and the Ritz-Carlton in Seoul.
Promoted as an anti-aging” tour, the agency and hotel offered a variety of packages that included sightseeing and shopping but that ultimately were built around cosmetic treatments
at a South Korean clinic. Pricing for the tourism” part of the package remains unclear, but the medical” piece included treatments ranging up to $88,000.
The perception of foreign hospitals’ quality also is on the rise. Earlier this year, the International Medical Travel Journal (IMTJ) presented its first-ever Medical Tourism Awards. No U.S. hospital or health-care center won, and precious few were finalists. The International Hospital of the Year was in Malaysia and the Destination of the Year Award went to Jordan. Awards are subjective, but the results are a clear indicator of how competitive the field is becoming.
The Beijing-to-Seoul experience aside, cost savings increasingly is cited as a critical factor driving medical tourism. It is at least as important as the availability of a procedure, maybe even more so. Patients Beyond Borders looked at U.S. costs for a variety of procedures and found patients and insurers can save anywhere from 25 percent to 90 percent by having their procedures done abroad. Savings also can be achieved at home, though, as companies and insurers come on board and negotiate rates with major U.S. health-care providers.
More employers and insurers are offering financial incentives to encourage workers to consider domestic medical travel. By pointing employees toward facilities with high-quality care and lower prices, employers say they can reduce their costs 20-40 percent – more than enough to cover the travel expenses involved.
Domestically we’re seeing some large employers and health plans offer to employees the option of having certain expensive procedures performed at designated locations both in and outside the U.S. where they can achieve more predictable outcomes at more affordable costs than might be the case at their local community hospital. This is the exception, not the rule, but a trend worth watching. Any health-care system competing for these opportunities, including those in
Florida, will need to focus on exceptional quality and service while also staying competitive on price,” says Thad Seymour, Jr., who leads strategic planning and business development for Lake Nona Medical City. A lot is at stake.
Hospital care accounts for more than one-third of the nation’s $2.5 trillion annual health spending tab. And spending on hospital care – which rose nearly 6 percent last year – is expected to accelerate. Employers with domestic travel programs say they save money in part by negotiating a single rate, which includes fees for surgeons, anesthesiologists and all medical care up until the patient is discharged.
This is one of our ways of trying to bend the cost curve,” says Bob Ihrie, senior vice president in charge of employee programs at Lowe’s. The national home-improvement retailer has a three-year deal with the Cleveland Clinic for employees and their dependents in need of specialty heart treatments Ð open-heart surgeries, valve repairs, pacemakers.
Lowe’s, which like many large employers is self-insured, may add orthopedic surgeries to its travel program, Ihrie says. Four other large employers – including an airline and a bank – are in a coalition with Lowe’s and are developing similar agreements with medical providers.
UnitedHealth Group, WellPoint and Humana are also looking to curb expenses by encouraging their members to receive medical procedures abroad through cross-border plans.
As Medical Tourism magazine notes, ‘hospital’ and ‘hospitality’ come from the same Latin root, ‘hospes,’ which means ‘host.'” The same article advised hospitals to look at their assets that would appeal to medical tourists, noting that facilities offering minimally invasive, outpatient procedures are ideal, especially if those facilities are in areas that offer strong tourist attractions.
It should be noted that the above magazine is produced by the Medical Tourism Association, which happens to be located in West Palm Beach.
So it is easy to see why lawmakers, health-care leaders and the hospitality industry in Florida remain excited about medical tourism’s potential in the state. Florida brings a lot of assets to the table, but all of these proponents remain acutely aware that outcomes are not guaranteed in economic development any more than they are in medicine.
A strategic marketing plan is critical. But ultimately the destination must deliver. Top-notch medical care, incredible hospitality and a seamless patient experience door to door, not only for the patient but his or her family.
Figuratively speaking, Florida has its marketing fingers on the pulse of medical tourism. The beat will only get louder.- Susan Revello contributed to this report.