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Medical Tourism - Health care disrupter or fringe service?

by John W. Mitchell, Senior Correspondent | January 21, 2015
Primary Care
From the January 2015 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

While Mills said that some insurance companies and health systems have made arrangements for patients who return from abroad for medical care, the truth is that U.S. physicians and hospitals have little incentive to participate or cooperate in the medical tourism delivery model. Local community-based providers, after all, lose business under medical tourism. Referring primary care doctors have tight and often lifelong bonds with the specialists to whom they refer patients. If medical tourism were ever to reach the 35 percent level that Keckley once predicted, it would force providers to compete on price — that would be extremely stressful to the current U.S. health care system. Everyone in the system — from doctors to nurses to hospital administrators to insurance companies — would have to reinvent themselves to compete and they would have to make less money to do so.

There is an argument to be made that medical tourism penetration could grow in the current U.S. health care environment. While the ACA has expanded coverage to millions of more Americans, the insurance plans offered have high deductibles making care more price-sensitive. Also, the growing trend of concierge medicine, a very entrepreneurial practice model for primary care doctors, could help grow medical tourism. Concierge medicine currently accounts for about 5 percent of medical practices (mostly primary care) and is growing at a rate of 15 percent a year. Physicians in concierge medicine practices have a strong incentive to serve their patients’ best financial interests, rather than that of local specialists or hospitals. However, this potential is offset by the growing trend of physician employment by hospitals, which now accounts for about 40 percent of U.S. doctors.

“We have a long way to go before the system is ready to easily slingshot Americans over the “pond” to get treatment,” Todd concludes.

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