US medical tourism dollars lost to Covid-19

New research from Center for Medical Tourism Research (CMTR) in Incarnate Word University (UIW) found that Covid-19 travel restrictions reduced hospitals’ medical tourism revenue by an estimated $1.9 billion in 2020 and 2021, Alex Kasik reports. Modern healthcare.

Covid-19 travel restrictions reduced medical tourism revenues

Each year, thousands of patients travel to the United States in search of medical care—and many of them pay out-of-pocket for expensive procedures.

According to this US International Trade CommissionRevenue from international patients traveling to the United States for heart transplants, oncology treatments, and other services grew more than 4% annually between 2015 and 2019. In 2019, the US health system saw more than $1.2 billion from medical tourism.

However, new research shows that pandemic travel restrictions cut more than $1.9 billion in medical tourism revenue in 2020 and 2021 — a loss that had a significant impact on many providers.

“It was such a banner year for medical tourism in 2019 and then of course we had it drop off because of COVID,” said David Wequist, author of the study, founder of CMTR, and professor of management at UIW. “For hospitals, medical tourism offers excellent margins as treatment is often paid in cash,” he added.

According to Wequist, medical tourism makes up more than 10% of a health system’s total net patient revenue in a typical year.

“The pandemic reinforced the vulnerability of hospital systems that rely heavily on pharmaceuticals and international travel for service fees, and may prompt healthcare providers to adjust their medical tourism strategies,” Kacik writes.

How the decline in medical tourism revenue is affecting providers

Despite significant declines in medical tourism revenue in 2020 and 2021, health system officials report that international patient volume is now at or near pre-pandemic levels.

For example, treatment by number of inbound international patients Cleveland Clinic It fell by about 50% in the first year of the epidemic, from 9,150 in 2019 to 4,939 in 2020. In 2021, their volumes had resumed, with 7,686 patients.

“Obviously, the pandemic didn’t do anyone any favors as it relates to travel and health care,” said Curtis Rimmerman, president of international operations at the Cleveland Clinic. “We quickly discovered that our priority was to care for domestic COVID patients. But things have stabilized and volumes have rebounded significantly with the reopening of air travel in Florida and Northeast Ohio.”

To attract more foreign patients, health systems have increased their marketing budgets targeting potential international patients. for example, Sanford Health Luis Garcia, president of Sanford’s clinic division, has partnered with the government of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada, to help address the backlog of neurosurgery patients.

“For us, this is a great opportunity to help with the backlog that the Canadian government has for certain services,” Garcia said.

Still, the costs associated with international marketing and the complex nature of retaining foreign consumers have risen significantly during the pandemic, pushing some providers to develop better telehealth strategies to reach more international patients, according to a 2021 peer-reviewed paper. hurry health Researcher and Medical Tourism Consultant.

However, international restrictions can also place limitations on telehealth. “In response to these challenges, academic medical centers will reexamine their foreign market strategies and those with significant investments in offshore locations will hedge their bets by reducing their exposure to those foreign operations and locations,” the study said.

Meanwhile, Cleveland Clinic and Sanford executives said they don’t want to slow down their international expansion plans or marketing initiatives, especially as some countries face years-long surgery backlogs for millions of patients.

“We expect international patient volume to increase over the next five years,” Rimmerman said. “Our goals are strong from an international perspective.” (Kasik, Modern healthcare, 8/17; Campbell, The Guardian8/3)

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