Like Texas wildcatters drilling for oil, hospital marketers in San Antonio are battling over new riches during these uncertain days of healthcare reform. The booty hospitals in Houston, Dallas and San Diego and San Antonio are after is "medical tourists" from Mexico.
Houston's Hermann Hospital, for example, is marketing package deals to Mexicans. The 628-bed hospital reported nearly half of its 1,000 international patients last year were from Mexico.
However, San Antonio is planning one of the most coordinated attacks.
"The last bastion of cash-paying patients is in Mexico," said Rita Thompson, executive coordinator of Medical Destination: San Antonio, an offshoot of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce that is designed to generate more healthcare business.
Some 12,000 affluent residents of the Mexican city of Monterrey-a five-hour drive from San Antonio-soon will be offered discounts on healthcare, hotels, restaurants and rental cars in San Antonio.
All they have to do is apply for a Medical Destination card, which is free for the first year that someone has one. Hospitals and physicians are offering package prices that they say will undercut prices offered by Houston providers.
In addition to boasting about San Antonio's quality of care and cost-effective pricing, Medical Destination said that the 11 hospitals in the program have bilingual staff members.
Providers also hope that package pricing will discourage Mexican patients from haggling over the bill later, a common occurrence. "They like to deal; it's a way of life," Ms. Thompson said.
Ms. Thompson said she can't calculate how much medical business now comes to San Antonio providers from Mexico. However, that will change. The Medical Destination card has a magnetic strip to track purchases. In addition, hospitals will begin collecting information on their Mexican business.
Hospitals are financing 70% of the Medical Destination program's $800,000 budget this year. The remainder is coming from the city's bed tax, business and industry and physicians.
"NAFTA and the trade agreements will cause a greater number of patients to seek care in San Antonio," said Callie Smith, president of the city's four-hospital Baptist Memorial Hospital System, which has 837 beds.
Columbia/HCA hospitals haven't contributed to the Medical Destination campaign, but Gary Looper, president of the San Antonio Columbia/HCA operation, intends to market in Mexico as well. "Even a small number of patients would be significant in a market of declining utilization," he said.