By Dr. Alejandro Badia, MD, FACS
One of the hottest, most profitable world-wide trends that we have seen in the past few years is the explosion in medical tourism. According to the 2016 Global Tourism Industry Report, over 50 countries identify themselves as being destinations for medical tourism, and classify Thailand, Singapore, India and Malaysia as the world’s top medical tourism destinations.
What is inbound medical tourism you may ask? It is informally defined as people who travel to the United States to seek the latest and best in medical treatment for themselves or for those they love. This medical care includes such treatments as: cosmetic surgery, dentistry, cardiovascular, orthopedics, cancer, reproductive health, weight loss, health screenings and even second opinions.
From a domestic perspective, South Florida is a perfect example of a region that has experienced an incredible surge in inbound medical tourism. According to the Medical Tourism Association, more than 375,000 residents from other U.S. states travel to Florida each year, spending $5.2 billion on medical services and approximately 38,000 international travelers visit Florida annually spending about $580 million, pointing to a revenue source for those not only in medical sector but in the hotel, restaurant and other local businesses that will play host to these international medical travelers and their companions during stays that normally last an average of 7-10 days depending on the treatment.
At my private practice, Badia Hand to Shoulder Center in Miami, our team treats patients that travel from around the world seeking expert medical care and treatments for upper limb and extremities including anything related to the hand, wrist, shoulder, elbow, arm and fingers. The Center is directly across from The Surgery Center at Doral, an elite, state-of-the-art ambulatory center. Having these services under one roof really works to reduce the stress and financial strain for patients and their families from having to visit multiple locations once here for treatment.
Approximately 20% of my patients are international patients and represent an even higher percentage of my surgical cases, and while they come from around the world, most are from Latin American and the Caribbean which, as the gateway to Latin America, Miami is a preferred location. These patients travel from abroad, and seek the newest and most technologically advanced treatment methods. In most cases, they don’t have family in the area, and to alleviate that burden, we have an international coordinator that takes them through the process step by step and, an important part of that is recommending lodging at one of our partner hotel properties. Once there, they will rely on the partner to then recommend area shopping, restaurants and activities. These often wealthy medical tourists represent a true untapped opportunity in the luxury hospitality market.
Luxury hoteliers have a great opportunity for growth with this sector as many medical tourists may want to combine traveling for a procedure with a vacation. The first step is connecting with your local medical community. Here are a few tips for consideration:
1. Research the local medical communities that already cater to international patients, specifically, executive physicians or surgery centers that offer outpatient procedures. Stop by and introduce yourself, and begin to nurture those relationships. Many health care providers have concierge programs in place to help ease the burden traveling patients face. These programs and its coordinators assist with travel arrangements, hotel recommendations and coordination of initial medical visits, treatment plans and recovery after medical procedures.
2. Explore the Medical Tourism Association web site for relevant and helpful tips and ideas. And, reach out to them if you have a particular query.
3. Offer special amenities that will entice not only the surgeon or concierge coordinator to refer their patients to you, but also entice the patient to choose your brand. Some of the services that we provide to our patients –is 24-hour assistance or care. Most of the time, patients travel with a caregiver, but there are instances when they travel alone. So, it is especially important to have easy access to the surgeon or medical team in case they need to be contacted. That can be as easy as placing the phone close by in the recovery area or in the patient’s room. Or, a personal concierge can be assigned to be in constant contact with the medical coordinator for any special needs or instructions the patient might have.
4. Tap into local healthcare providers and medical centers for “go to expertise” and to establish partnerships. Train personnel, especially concierges, on tips that help in the recovery process. The relationship between the patient and the health care professional is very personal, and it’s important for the patient to feel that the hotel staff and the medical staff are well connected with each other and provide an extra personal touch with guests.
5. Curate a “Get Well Soon” menu. Patients are already burdened with traveling away from their home country for medical care, and sometimes they do not know the area well enough to choose restaurants that offer and deliver healthy and delicious food options.
6. Offer transportation or a shuttle service to and from the surgeon’s office. This is very important as patients can’t drive after surgery, and this will facilitate the commute and bring reassurance to the patient when making their decision on which hotel to choose.
There is a famous Chinese proverb, “He who returns from a journey is not the same as he who left,” this is very important as that’s exactly what medical tourists seek by traveling abroad. They want to fix the health problem, have a more positive medical opinion and enjoy the trip just like any other vacation. The goal is to offer extraordinary medical care, make the experience convenient, and as comfortable as we can. We aim to deliver a first class experience from start to finish.
About the author
Alejandro Badia, MD, FACS is an internationally renowned hand and upper extremity surgeon at Badia Hand to Shoulder Center in Doral, Florida. Dr. Badia graduated from Cornell University and completed his medical degree at NYU. He served as the worldwide president of ISSPORTH and co-founded the globally recognized Miami Anatomical Research and Training Center (M.A.R.C.) and The Surgery Center at Doral, an elite state-of-the-art ambulatory surgery center.
After years of a successful medical career and a prestigious speaking legacy, he saw a need for specialized orthopedic urgent care centers to efficiently assess and treat a range of orthopedic and sports injuries and founded OrthoNOW®, the only network of orthopedic urgent care centers in the country. Each OrthoNOW® has a team of orthopedic specialists on staff that treat broken bones, sprains, torn ligaments and muscles, cuts, sports and workers compensation injuries.
Dr. Badia, a two-time South Florida Business Journal Top 100 Power Leaders in Healthcare and a Top 100 Under 50 Diverse Executive Leader by Diversity MBA Magazine, has also been honored with Legacy Awards from Today’s Work Comp Professionals and The Doral Business Council. OrthoNOW® was named a “Top Ten Franchise Opportunity” in healthcare by Entrepreneur Magazine and featured in the following media: Franchise Times, Orthopedics This Week, South Florida Business Journal, Franchise USA Magazine and The Miami Herald.