Growth in Specialty Services and Partnerships Are Expanding Medical Care Offerings for Local Residents and a Growing “Medical Tourist” Market
By Judy Crawford
In June 2010, a ten-member pediatric medical team led by craniofacial surgeon Dr. Rodney Schmelzer gave a seven-year-old Idaho boy a chance at a normal life. The boy’s parents brought him to Cardon Children’s Medical Center in Mesa in hopes of combating the effects of Apert’s syndrome, a rare genetic disorder in which the skull and facial bones fuse together prematurely. Although the nearly five-hour reconstructive surgery was deemed a success, its full impact can only be measured as the child’s face grows in the months and years ahead.
“They came from Idaho and sought out care at Cardon Children’s,” said Becky Kuhn, president of Banner Health’s Arizona East Region which includes the pediatric medical center. “In particular, at Cardon Children’s, the parents can sleep in their child’s room, or when they need a little space, we have parent lounges where they can go and relax. We also provide patient families with a list of area lodging facilities. Or after talking with a family, our staff can suggest local hotels based on the family’s needs.”
This year, Harvard Business Review is identifying growth in “medical tourism,” the concept of traveling away from home for medical care, as one of 12 megatrends in global healthcare. The journal based its ranking on predictions by the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions that the number of Americans traveling abroad for treatment will more than double in five years, up from 750,000 in 2007 to 1.6 million in 2012.
The 2008 Deloitte study also projected that “intrabound medical tourism,” where U.S. patients travel to medical centers outside their own communities, is likely to grow. But it noted that this domestic trend is harder to measure due to lack of data. “Drivers include the availability of a physician who performs a complex or specialty procedure, decreased waiting times, higher quality of care, lower costs, and inclusion of the facility under coverage provisions of the individual’s insurance program,” the report stated.
While medical tourism for years has been described as Americans traveling outside the U.S. for healthcare, that is changing, according to American Medical News. A new twist is the emergence of a domestic market as fewer Americans are willing to pack their bags, say, for a knee replacement in India and are deciding instead to find better and more affordable procedures within the U.S. Some large employers and health insurers are even offering financial incentives to workers who have certain procedures completed by designated medical providers in a different city or state. Employers and insurers maintain that sending employees out of town can both reduce costs and improve the quality of care, as reported by Kaiser Health News and USA TODAY.
Mayo Boosts Local Economies
Englishman Dr. William Mayo and his physician sons started what grew into Mayo Clinic after a tornado struck Rochester, Minn. in 1883. Today, nearly three-fourths of the three million tourists who visit Rochester annually are Mayo patients or their families. A study by the Battelle Memorial Institute last year shows Mayo Clinic is responsible for $22 billion in economic impact nationwide. System-wide, Mayo treated 528,000 patients last year, with 20 to 30 percent of its patients traveling more than 500 miles for treatment.
In Arizona, Mayo’s facilities around the Valley contribute $1.45 billion annually to the state’s economy. Mayo also is a leading Arizona employer with 425 physicians and a staff of 4,400, said Mayo Clinic Arizona CEO Victor Trastek speaking to the Harvard Business School Club in Phoenix last year. What the healthcare giant referred to as “Baby Mayo” first opened in Scottsdale in 1987, followed by the Mayo Clinic Hospital which opened in Phoenix in 1998.
Mayo Clinic took a noteworthy step in November 2010 when it signed a national contract with UnitedHealthcare, making it cheaper for 20 million of the insurers’ commercial members around the country to seek care at Mayo facilities. The contract allows members to pay in-network prices if they go to Mayo, offering savings over out-of-network prices. In Arizona alone, UnitedHealthcare provides commercial health insurance for an estimated 750,000 people.
Also in the East Valley, Scottsdale Healthcare is eyeing the potential of medical tourism, according to panel discussion at the “Next Steps Scottsdale” conference sponsored by the Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce in September 2010. During a panel on “Preparing for the Next Economic Upturn,” Rachel Sacco, president and CEO of the Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau, noted that she and Scottsdale Healthcare CEO Tom Sadvary are discussing ways to collaborate on medical tourism opportunities.
Scottsdale Healthcare has three hospitals: Scottsdale Healthcare Shea Medical Center, Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn and Scottsdale Healthcare Thompson Peak Hospital. Additionally, Scottsdale Healthcare Shea Medical Center is the only hospital in the Greater Phoenix area to earn the 2009 Thomson Reuters 100 Top Hospitals: National Benchmarks Award, which recognizes the top five percent of hospitals nationwide for quality nursing care.
Banner Joins Forces with Cancer Care Leader
“I think that health organizations have figured out that people are interested, willing, even eager, to travel for high-level specialty care,” said Banner’s Becky Kuhn. “Now it’s a matter of looking at how we can make it easier for people to do that.”
By the end of this year Banner Health will operate three specialty hospitals in the East Valley following the opening of the Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center on the campus of Gateway Medical Center in Gilbert in September 2011. A sister hospital to the internationally known MD Anderson cancer complex in Houston, the $90 million Gilbert facility will join Banner’s Cardon Children’s Medical Center, which opened in 2009, and Banner Heart Hospital, now a decade old.
Kuhn said that as Banner’s East Valley hospitals grow, they will look to MD Anderson’s Houston campus as a model for addressing all aspects of patient and family support, including help with lodging and travel arrangements. She noted that in Houston, MD Anderson recommends a variety of accommodations for patient families including hotels and motels, apartments and RV parks. The hospital advises families to ask these businesses for their lower “medical rate.” The Houston campus also offers its own full-service hotel managed by Marriott International on site and an in-house travel agency, Patient Travel Services, for patients and their families.
Kuhn also said that Banner is talking to hotel companies about developing extended stay properties on land adjacent to the medical center. Banner also is drawing on resources such as the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge and the Ronald McDonald House in planning local MD Anderson facilities.
This type of development will be needed to appeal to patient families choosing where to travel for specialty procedures, Kuhn said. “When someone is ill, family members want to stay very close,” she noted. “They don’t even want to go to the cafeteria.”
East Valley Poised to Compete
Looking ahead, with resort cities such as Orlando, Fla. actively promoting themselves as medical tourism destinations, does the East Valley have the potential to compete in this arena?
“Absolutely,” Kuhn said, “when you begin to look at that level of distinct specialty care, clearly there’s an opportunity. Another thing that plays to our favor is good access through the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport for both commercial and private aviation. And I think another great draw here is our climate, which in my view is much more attractive than in Florida.”