There was an interesting article in the most recent Inc. Magazine called “Domestic Medical Tourism: How one company is saving businesses big bucks on employee medical treatments.”
Much of the talk about “medical tourism” has focused on patients flying halfway around the world to India, Thailand, or other low-cost / high-quality destinations, where hospitals are typically built to American and Western standards. The employers who pay for healthcare benefit from lower costs and employees often get incentives to choose such care, including 5-star accommodations for the patient and even a family member.
But are we missing an opportunity that's right in front of our faces in the U.S.?
Medical tourism is not appealing to everyone – there's long flights (which brings the risk of DVT) and American doctors are often hesitant to give follow up treatment to somebody who went overseas, for liability reasons.
The Inc. article highlights something that many of us in healthcare know – healthcare costs can vary wildly within a state or across the country, as Dartmouth Atlas and Medicare data shows. The article points out that you can sometimes save 20 to 40% by flying from, for example, Washington to Arkansas.
“The feedback we were getting from employers was, ‘I'm not sure I want to send my employees on an airplane for 10 hours. But two hours, that's OK,' ” says CEO Vic Lazzaro, a former UnitedHealthcare executive.
There are benefits all around:
… three-way agreement in which all sides seem to come out ahead. Companies with self-funded insurance plans benefit with, typically, 20 percent to 40 percent savings on such surgeries as knee replacements and heart bypasses. Patients willing to get on a plane benefit, too. Because employers save so much, they encourage their employees to use the BridgeHealth plan by waiving copayments and deductibles. And hospitals get access to patients they would otherwise not have, allowing them to fill empty beds.
If you look at ThedaCare being able to reduce their costs for certain types of care by 25 to 30%, starting at a cost far lower than places like New Jersey, why not send lots of patients to Appleton, Wisconsin?
What do you think about traveling across state lines for lower cost / higher quality healthcare? Why aren't more companies and patients doing this? Inertia of current practices? Would a trend of domestic medical tourism provide competitive pressure for those organizations that aren't improving the value the provide?
p.s. Today is day 1 of our 2nd annual Lean Healthcare Transformation Summit. Follow along on Twitter, see details here.
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