Washington D.C. Jumps On the Medical Tourism Bandwagon
Healthcare costs in the United States have skyrocketed, leading many patients to seek healthcare overseas, and with good reason. A kidney transplant in the United States can cost upward of $300,000, while in locations such a Thailand the same procedure, with the same level of care, can cost as little as $91,000. The average cost for a one-night hospital stay in America is $12,000, and that’s before the costs of any specialists, tests or procedures are added in.
However, the United States is renowned for having among the safest and most modern medical care available in the world. For many patients, both in the United States and other countries, the risks associated with cheap surgeries aren’t a fair trade-off for the reduced cost. They’ll pay whatever it takes to be treated here.
Always aware of political and economic trends, officials in Washington, D.C., are looking to increase public awareness of the city as a premiere medical tourism destination. The medical world is already keenly aware: The 2014 World Medical Tourism and Global Heathcare Congress was held in D.C., giving city officials a chance to show the medical community how it stacked up against medical tourism programs from around the world.
Washington’s Municipal Health Department’s next challenge is to promote the excellent hospitals it administers to the public—not the public it normally serves, but the public outside the city. Its plan? To link the advantages of being treated by American doctors to the attractions of visiting the nation’s capital. Aside from the more obvious tourist destinations for those accompanying patients seeking treatment (the White House, the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument and the Library of Congress), Washington D.C. also offers luxury hotels, fine restaurants, clubs and national tours of Broadway productions.
The aim of this focus on medical tourism goes far beyond increasing operating revenues for hospitals. All manner of local industries profit from medical tourism, starting with local restaurants, taxis and car services, home care providers, dry cleaners and grocers. Even excluding hotel and travel costs, most medical tourists, which include the patients as well as those accompanying them, spend an average of $1,000 to $4,000 beyond the costs of their medical care, which would help boost the city’s economy.
Many states, such as Florida, have been aware of the benefits of medical tourism for decades, and are also trying to elbow their way into the market. According to an April 6, 2014 article in the Miami Herald, the Florida state legislature is seeking to pass a bill requiring Florida’s tourism marketing bureau to go beyond promoting sunshine, Walt Disney World and Epcot, and to focus on promoting the increasingly lucrative field of medical tourism. The pay-off for Florida? If the program is successful, it will attract an entirely new market of deep-pocketed tourists both from within America and from around the world.
While Washington, D.C., is not yet contemplating a government-mandated advertising campaign, it is looking to coordinate its efforts. Even without a coordinated campaign, local hospitals have typically been treating between 100 and 250 out-of-country patients per year. A focused strategy that appeals to both international citizens and to Americans outside of D.C. could see those numbers skyrocket.
In terms of attracting interest, the city is working with excellent raw materials. Many Washington hospitals and independent clinics offer the finest medical care, and some specialize in particularly desirable cutting-edge areas, such as proton beam cancer therapy. Many hospitals also offer fertility treatments that are not yet obtainable or legal in other countries.
Currently, the only overriding worry officials have is ensuring that rapid growth in medical tourism doesn’t inadvertently cut off the city’s residents from receiving the medical care they require. To that end, officials are monitoring the success of their new medical tourism strategy and are keeping a close eye on its utilization of local resources. While its effect on the local economy is expected to be beneficial, officials stress it is equally important to manage the program’s growth so that the health of the community is maintained.