Millions of people seeking medical care travel across borders each year to receive treatment, turning international health care into an industry worth as much as $80 billion. And, according to the latest PYMNTS research, many international health care patients head for the U.S., with nearly 40 percent traveling to North America for treatment. So, what does that say about the American health care industry? Find out in the hot-off-the-presses Global Citizen Index™.
The Shapiro Tower Pavilion at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital offers its patients sweeping views of Boston’s skyline from their rooms that are styled with high-end furniture and takes patient care to the next level with round-the-clock concierge service and gourmet food prepared by professional chefs.
The extravagant hospitality provided at the penthouse suites of the pavilion, which are often occupied by the uber-wealthy, provides a glimpse into a growing market of medical travelers who come to the U.S. to seek top-notch health care.
In 2016, nearly 300,000 foreign patients are estimated to have traveled to the U.S. to seek medical treatments, according to Patients Beyond Borders.
For better treatment and comfort, U.S.-bound medical travelers don’t seem to mind the extra cost, which makes them particularly lucrative patients for hospitals in the U.S. An international patient seeking a popular procedure, such as heart bypass surgery, in the U.S. can expect to shell out nearly $75,345. In comparison, the same treatment would cost $42,130 in Australia and a mere $15,742 in the Netherlands, according to the International Federation of Health Plans.
These patients, many of whom come to seek treatment for high-acuity conditions, spend an average of $35,000, representing approximately 22 percent of the global international health care travel market, Josef Woodman, CEO of Patients Beyond Borders, told PYMNTS.
In 2017, the demand among international travelers for U.S.-based health care is anything but slowing down. And U.S. hospitals, for one, are racing to tap into the growing market.
“The ‘brand-name’ academic medical centers (AMCs), including Cleveland Clinic, Mayo, Mass General, Jackson Memorial, Cedars Sinai, Brigham and Women’s, MD Anderson, HSS, Sloan Kettering and Texas Children’s Hospital, get the lion’s share of the international business,” Woodman explained.
A look at the websites of the top 20 U.S. hospitals reveals the different strategies they are employing to entice international patients.
Each of these hospitals has set up exclusive international patient services divisions, which act as a singular stop for medical travelers where all of their needs can be taken care of.
The division at Cleveland Clinic, rated the second best hospital in the U.S., appoints a “global services coordinator” to its incoming patients to provide them end-to-end assistance with planning their first international appointment, including visa information, billing and payment assistance, lodging and even special rental car discounts.
In 2012, the Cleveland, Ohio-based hospital treated 3,200 international medical travelers — a third of whom came from the Middle East. Since then, the hospital has extensively grown its international patient services division to cater to its increasing traffic. In 2016, the hospital treated 4,000 medical travelers, who came from 170 countries.
To entice a larger number of medical travelers, top medical centers, especially in South Florida, New York and Houston, have been spending millions of dollars cultivating their facilities to attract international patients, Woodman noted. More recently, they are seeing a growing influx of patients from China.
Health care facilities across the U.S. are implementing new programs that appeal to a diverse base of patients seeking treatments today. The special language assistance program is one such offering that is a common denominator at all of the popular health care facilities in the U.S.
The Cleveland Clinic currently offers its services in 12 languages. Its top competitors — Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., which is ranked number one, and Mass General in Boston, Mass., ranked number three — do the same.
These hospitals are also furthering their efforts to reach patients who cannot travel all the way to the U.S. by offering second opinions through telephone and video conferencing services. Nine out of the top 10 U.S. hospitals now remotely offer second opinions for a $500–$700 consultation fee.
US hospitals go abroad
With demand for high-quality and advanced medical treatment growing, U.S. hospitals are now increasingly expanding their footprint overseas by establishing representative offices in their target markets.
Mayo Clinic is particularly focused on tapping into affluent Canadian and Latin American travelers wanting to seek treatment in the U.S. The hospital has opened three representative offices in Canada and one each in Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala and Mexico that act as local points of contact for patients in the region.
The hospital publicizes its specialties in treating cancer, neurology, cardiovascular diseases and transplants and offering top-notch executive health programs.
Johns Hopkins, which is ranked number four in the U.S., is using collaborations with other hospitals as a strategy to expand its international presence. So far, the Baltimore, Md.-based hospital has collaborated with 19 hospitals in North America, Europe, Middle East, Asia-Pacific and Latin America to offer its services outside the U.S.
The Cleveland Clinic, on the other hand, exclusively targets Middle Eastern patients by offering Arabic translation of its text and video archive on its website.
The hospital has also opened representative offices in Weston, Florida; Toronto, Canada; and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Seeing the high traffic from the Middle East, in 2014, the hospital signed a 15-year partnership with the UAE to open an acute care center in Abu Dhabi, where patients could avail themselves of the same standards they were offered at its facilities in the U.S.
For the Cleveland Clinic, the opportunity to expand its presence to the Middle East meant building a new revenue stream.
“We look at it as our petrodollars coming home to Cleveland,” the Cleveland Clinic’s CEO, Dr. Toby Cosgrove, told Reuters at the time of the announcement. “It’s money coming back to us.”
These expansion plans come at a time when U.S. health care facilities are facing intense competition from Asian countries, such as China and India, that offer cheaper medical treatment options. Whether their international investment strategy will globalize U.S. health care for good remains to be seen. [Read more on PYMNTS.]