Through most of the twentieth century, venerated US medical institutions dominated the world in research, academics, training, complex diagnosis and technology-driven treatment. As with other sectors, the US now shares the healthcare landscape with top medical and academic institutions around the globe.
A US academic medical center typically offers technologies and surgical expertise considered too expensive or too specialized for patients in many other countries. The US also offers a confidence factor: top US medical institutions remain the envy of the world, with unmatched high standards and rigor. Similarly, US physicians are subject to the most arduous system of ethical and legal accountability in the world.
Top Doctors and Diagnoses Attract International Patients
Geography may prove a secondary consideration when the vast experience of a specialty hospital or a team of sub-specialists is required.
Each year, some 300,000 international patients visit the United States seeking excellence in specialty care—especially in complex or "high-acuity" cases. US facilities and physicians are rarely able to beat the price at a JCI-accredited hospital in India, Turkey or Thailand; however, American specialists often are called upon to treat cases considered difficult or untreatable elsewhere.
While the US healthcare system remains largely wedded to general hospital model, clusters of specialty treatment can be found in vibrant regions, where academics, research and clinical care come together to form a powerful whole. For example, Houston’s Texas Medical Center (TMC) is comprised of 54 hospitals and specialty clinics, including luminaries such as MD Anderson (oncology); Methodist (orthopedics, transplants); Texas Children’s Hospital and its recently opened Women’s Pavilion.
Similarly, healthcare clusters in South Florida tend to attract the Latin American and Caribbean patient, while Boston and the greater New York region bring in affluent patients from all over, including Africa, the Middle East, Western Europe and—increasingly—Russia and China.
Most leading US international hospitals have been serving cross-border patients for decades, with established international patient services that include airport pick-up and drop-off, hotel shuttle, translators, travel planning and more. An Intercontinental Hotel adjoins Cleveland Clinic, and the Marriott Texas Medical Center welcomes visitors from all walks, with special amenities for the TMC patient.
Domestic Medical Travel on the Rise
Over the past two decades, the trend of consumer-driven healthcare has given rise to patients traveling beyond their backyards for specialty care not available close to home. The Internet is finally having its impact on healthcare, and cost-conscious patients are discovering they can take advantage of wide price disparities without sacrificing quality, if they are willing to do the research and pack a suitcase.
Employers and insurers are responding as well; in 2010 Lowes Corporation entered into an arrangement with the renowned Cleveland Clinic in Ohio to give its 40,000 employees and their covered dependents the option to travel to that facility for heart care. PepsiCo entered into a similar arrangement with John Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore for its nearly 250,000 US employees and dependents. The travel surgery benefit includes cardiac and complex joint replacement surgeries, paid travel and accommodations and often a cash incentive for patients willing to pack a suitcase.
Last updated on 11 January 2017