According to the U.S. Cooperative for International Patient Programs, which represents nearly 70 hospitals and health systems that provide treatment to international medical travelers and that often collaborate with research and patient care partners abroad, quantifying how many patients come to America for treatment each year is tough to pinpoint.
Jarrett Fowler, USCIPP’s program manager, says operational benchmarking data from July 2014 to June 2015 indicate that member hospitals employed well over 1,000 full-time equivalents and treated patients from more than 150 countries. He adds that the actual numbers likely are higher given that not all U.S. hospitals with international patient programs are members of the association.
Estimates for 2014 from the Bureau of Economic Analysis indicate that foreign nationals’ purchase of goods and services while traveling to the U.S. for health care — such as food, lodging and medical treatment — accounted for nearly $3.5 billion in American exports.
The USCIPP community continues to grow — nearly 200 leaders from its member organizations gathered at UCLA Health in April to share best practices in working with foreign embassies and governments, compare notes on marketing approaches for international patients and more. USCIPP also announced at the meeting that it is the recipient of a $225,000 award from the International Trade Administration, the branch of the Department of Commerce that helps to promote international trade.
Here's a sampling of what hospitals and health systems are doing on the international front:
Louisiana-based Ochsner Health System has a long history of treating international patients in its New Orleans facilities.“Ochsner was founded by five physicians from Tulane University and one of them — Dr. [Alton] Ochsner himself — used to travel to Central America and South America to teach, so our international business probably truly started in the 1950s,” says Ana Hands, M.D., vice president for international health and transplant services, adding that the system typically treats between 2,800 and 4,000 international patients a year.
Read more about what hospitals are doing internationally:
Just down the coast, Houston Methodist treats about 3,000 international patients a year from more than 80 countries. The work of renowned international heart surgeon Michael DeBakey, M.D., who joined Houston Methodist in 1948, helped to draw patients from all over the world, but particularly from Mexico, Central America and South America, says Summer Dajani, vice president of global patient services, education and training.
Baptist Health International in Florida cares for about 9,000 patients a year, primarily from the Caribbean and Latin America, with many seeking quality treatment for cancer, heart and neurology, says Mario A. Mendez, M.D., corporate vice president and chief medical officer of Baptist Health International.
North up the East Coast, Johns Hopkins Medicine International treats about 4,500 international patients a year with a variety of medical needs that can’t be met in their own countries. “Patients come to us from all over the world, and we serve their unique and complex needs by providing them with culturally sensitive medical concierge service and leading-edge health care,” says Pamela Paulk, president of the international unit.
On the West Coast, Stanford University Medical Center treats about 2,700 international patients a year and communicates with about 8,000 international patients who want to know more about possibly being treated there, according to Barbara Ralston, vice president of international medical services. “We receive about 4,500 sets of records to triage and develop estimates for in a year,” Ralston says.
UCLA Health sees between 2,500 and 3,000 unique international patients per year, says Vivian Beene, International Services’ director of operations. She adds that inquiries from overseas patients continue to increase and that the organization is seeing a steady rise in international patients with insurance coverage — something that was echoed by other organizations with which we spoke.