As U.S. hospitals look for ways to improve their margins, it might behoove them to look overseas.
Globalization has brought with it increasing numbers of international patients seeking treatment at American hospitals, and hospitals willing to grapple with cultural differences may find a wealth of opportunities in foreign countries.
Nina Nashif knows this firsthand.
Her hospital has had to deal with a patient from the Middle East who requested a new bed because he did not want to sleep in one that anyone else had used and who brought his own medical instruments. The patient's requests were honored.
As manager of strategic and business development for international services at Methodist Health Care System in Houston, Nashif is one of about 30 employees, only one of whom is American, involved in that system's forays abroad. Methodist has one of the oldest international programs among U.S. medical systems. It got its start more than 20 years ago through the travels of prominent cardiovascular surgeon Michael DeBakey. DeBakey brought Methodist's name to other parts of the world. Today, Methodist operates information centers in Guatemala, Mexico and Turkey, and sees about 5,000 international patients annually from about 80 countries.
"With the globalization of medicine, and just globalization in general in our economy, it's good for institutions to make their mark and get involved in these kinds of activities," Nashif says.
She and O. Danielle Rizk, assistant vice president of international services for Methodist, will be discussing international opportunities from 4: 15 p.m. to 5: 45 p.m. March 27 and from 10: 30 a.m. to noon March 28 at the ACHE event in Chicago. The seminar is titled "International Healthcare Opportunities for U.S.-Based Providers."
"As hospitals around the country are losing money and trying to tighten up their core businesses, they're looking for new revenue streams," Nashif says. "This is a great revenue stream."
The revenue does not come without commitment, flexibility and a significant financial investment.
"You can't be in a tightening mode when you're in the international line," she says.
International patient referral programs and consulting programs can cost $2 million to $5 million per year, she says, but they pay off when patients recognize a hospital's name abroad.
Methodist has a staff of patient coordinators who translate for international patients, help them make travel arrangements and schedule medical appointments.
Prospective patients or their families can go to Methodist satellite offices abroad and talk with physicians and patient coordinators through a Web camera to schedule procedures. Some foreign patients pay cash, whereas others are sponsored by their governments. A hospital must be flexible enough to deal with billing issues that may conflict with normal procedures, Nashif says.