Here's another potential side effect of President Donald Trump's immigration order: a hit to medical travel.
The Middle East region, which includes some countries that are a target of Trump's ban, is the top source of patients who travel to the U.S. for medical care, said Tricia Johnson, an economist at Rush University Medical Center and director of the Center for Health Management & Policy Research at Rush University. She works with a program housed at Rush on the Near West Side that studies and tracks medical travel.
The ban could harm patients who need care the most, and frustrate their doctors and hospitals that have been preparing for their arrival. Many patients come for cancer, orthopedic and other complex treatments more than the average patient would need.
"The care that gets delivered to international patients tends to be specialized care that's not available in their home country or potentially outside of the U.S.," said Andy Garman, CEO of the National Center for Healthcare Leadership, a nonprofit that runs the medical travel tracking program. The program has 67 hospital members that mainly are academic medical centers, including Rush.
Trump's executive order bans people from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the U.S. The move has fueled mass protests nationwide. In addition to appealing to international patients, the health care industry attracts doctors and researchers from around the globe to study and work in the U.S.
Prestigious academic medical centers in the Chicago area notably seek out foreign patients, and vice versa. They have top-notch specialists and a reputation for providing complex care that patients might not be able to get at home. For hospitals, they want an international reputation, and they can recoup more money from some out-of-town patients that can help them bulk up services and appeal to even more patients.
The travel ban could prompt international patients to skip the U.S. and take their dollars elsewhere, such as to Germany or Thailand. It could also lead patients who live in countries not affected by the ban to worry if Trump will restrict their homelands, too, causing them to question whether they should even start applying for a visa to trek to the U.S. for a procedure, Garman said.
From July 2014 to June 2015, the 67 member hospitals saw patients from 140 countries.
But here's another thing to consider: After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, medical travel plummeted. Patients had a tougher time getting visas, and there were perceived barriers for coming to the U.S., as well, Johnson said.
"How Trump's travel ban could hit medical tourism hard" originally appeared in Crain's Chicago Business.