Amid a burgeoning medical tourism market that is drawing U.S. patients overseas to seek care, at least one U.S. hospital is pushing to draw foreign patients here. Seattles Swedish Medical Center has launched an international healthcare program that aims to grow the providers foreign-patient customer base.
The 221-bed hospital is among the first to seek a regular pipeline of full-charge, self-pay patients from China and Japan. The move places the provider among a shortlist of competitors tapping the Asian market. They include the Cleveland Clinic, which has a Global Patient Services program that targets India and Japan, and Baltimores Johns Hopkins Hospital, which has developed consulting and referral relationships with providers in India, Japan and Singapore.
Currently about $7 million to $8 million of Swedishs $1.2 billion in annual revenue comes from providing international care, according to hospital officials. Duane Dobrowits, director of Swedishs VIP and Physician Servicesthe division responsible for developing the international programsaid the hospital would like to increase those earnings. He also acknowledged that the cash-pay nature of the medical-tourism business is an attractive draw for American healthcare providers looking to lessen their dependence on insurance payers.
This is a cash product, and (Swedish is) able to package (care) in a way that when a patient pays us, its one payment and we then parcel out the fees to the various medical providers, Dobrowits said.
Swedishs plan for expanding its international healthcare program includes establishing consulting relationships with providers in China and Japan. While hospital executives dont expect these deals to generate significant income (the provider has realized just over $750,000 in revenue from international consulting deals during the past year), they do see consulting as an opportunity to build credibility among foreign providers and garner patient-referrals.
Without question, our goal is to increase the number of international patients (we treat), and the consulting route allows us to do that in a positive way, said Dan Dixon, vice president of government and community affairs for Swedish. It allows us to develop relationships with providers and institutions that will send patients here for specialty care not available in their country, he added.
To that end, Swedish recently inked an agreement with Chinas Dalian Medical University in Liaoning province to provide three months of stateside surgical training to a Chinese epilepsy surgeon. The arrangement also calls for Swedish to consult with the provider on setting up an epilepsy center. Well help them with equipment purchases, (treatment) policy, proceduresanything they need to open the center, Dobrowits said. It will be a very basic surgical center, so any patient who needs more complicated surgery will be referred to us.
Robert Crone, Harvard Medical International president and chief executive officer, sees efforts like Swedishs as part of a growing healthcare-globalization trendone that also finds Americans leaving shore to seek care in less-expensive markets. I view medical tourism as an unintended consequence of the rise of centers of excellence within healthcare, said Crone in an earlier interview unrelated to Swedish.
He noted that the growth of these centers, along with adoption of the model by a growing number of international providers, means patients are increasingly looking beyond their immediate boarders to find care that suits their healthcare needs and financial limitations.
Nevertheless, the American healthcare system has long been a draw for wealthy foreigners seeking care not available in their own countries. For more than 30 years, for example, the Cleveland Clinic has had a program focused on drawing patients from a variety of regions to it center for treatment. Weve had an international center since the early 70s where we take care of everything from patients hotel reservations to providing translation services and scheduling medical care, said Bill Ruschhaupt, chairman of Clevelands Global Patient Services.