Category Archives: Foreign Patient Volumes

Foreign Patients Get Liver Transplants in US Hospitals First

ProPublica, those lovely folks who published several articles some time back on workers’ comp, are at it again.

This time, they are focusing their ire on how foreign patients are getting liver transplants at some US hospitals ahead of Americans waiting for such transplants.

The story, published yesterday, was co-published with a local Fox station in New Orleans.

From 2013 to 2016, New York-Presbyterian Hospital gave 20 livers to foreign nationals who came to the US solely for a transplant, essentially exporting the organs and removing them from the pool of available livers to New Yorkers.

Dr. Herbert Pardes (I was familiar with his name from living in NY), wrote that, “Patients in equal need of a liver transplant should not have to wait and suffer differently because of the U.S. state where they reside.”

Dr, Pardes was the former chief executive, and is now the executive vice president of the board at New York-Presbyterian.

Yet, according to the story, Dr. Pardes left out NY-P’s contribution to the shortage, as stated above from 2013 to 2016.

These 20 livers represent 5.2 percent of the hospital’s liver transplants during that time, which was one of the highest ratios in the country.

ProPublica reported that unknown to the public, or to sick patients and their families, organs donated domestically are sometimes given to patients flying in from other countries, who often pay a premium. Some hospitals even seek them out.

A company from Saudi Arabia said it signed an agreement with Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans in 2015.

The practice is legal, according to the story, and foreign nationals must wait their turn in the same way as domestic patients. The transplant centers justify this on medical and humanitarian grounds, but at a time when we have an Administration touting “America First”, this may run counter to the national mood.

The  director of the transplant institute at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, Dr. Sander Florman, said he struggles with “in essence, selling the organs we do have to foreign nationals with bushels of money.”

Between 2013 and 2016, 252 foreigners came to the US purely to receive livers at American hospitals. In 2016, the most recent year for which there is data, the majority of foreign recipients were from countries in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Israel and the UAE. Another 100 foreigners staying in the US as non-residents also received livers.

At the same time, more than 14,000 people, nearly all Americans, are waiting for livers, a figure that has remained very high for decades, they report. By comparison, fewer than 8,000 liver transplants were performed last year in the US, an all-time high. National median wait time is more than 14 months, and in NY, the time is longer.

In 2016. more than 2.600 patients were removed from waiting lists nationally, either because they died or were too sick to receive a liver transplant.

All this is happening at a time when the party in power is seeking to take health care away from those who recently received care for the first time in a long time from the ACA, and at a time when the medical travel industry is focused not on transplant surgeries, but on boutique treatments and surgeries for wealthy or upper middle class Americans to go abroad for bariatric, plastic or reconstructive surgery, knee surgery, dental care, etc.

And yet, when the very idea of medical travel is broached in the medical community, it is disparaged and discouraged by physicians and others as unsafe, impractical, and not worth the effort, Obviously, it is well worth the effort on the part of foreign patients to come here and take organs meant for Americans, so why not allow Americans to take their organs?

Is it because the hospitals that supply these organs to foreign patients are making huge sums of money, and the poor schnook American with liver disease (or kidney disease, as in the case of yours truly) must die so that an American hospital can improve its bottom line?

It is high time to cut the crap and promote medical travel the right way and for the right reasons, not only for those who can afford it, but those who need transplants and can’t get them here.

That is the true nature of the globalization of healthcare…a two-way street.

 

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RESISTANCE IS FUTILE!: What is the reason behind Medical Tourism’s Rejection?

My friend, Maria Todd, PhD, noted International Expert on Healthcare & Health Tourism Business Strategies & Operations, Business Owner, Author, and Speaker, has written a very cogent and to the point article challenging American hospitals on why they eschew inbound medical tourism.

For the uninitiated, inbound medical tourism, or travel, refers to foreign patients traveling to the US or other countries for medical care from their home country.

A case in point was the late, and not lamented, Shah of Iran who was allowed to come to the US for treatment of his cancer, and which led to the taking hostage of our embassy staff, destroying what was left of one presidential administration, and secretly aiding another to win the election, and thus look good in the eyes of the American people, only some time later to that administration selling arms to Iran for other hostages, the cash then used to support the Contras in Nicaragua.

But I digress.

As the Shah had money, he was welcomed with open arms, but Maria wonders why other American hospitals, knowing that they will receive cash, still refuses to seek out inbound medical tourism as an alternative source of revenue.

According to Dr. Todd, “It is estimated that the USA is the 3rd most popular destination for inbound medical tourism from other countries, but the practice of traveling for health has been a “thing” in the USA for more than 100 years.

Corporations such as Pepsico, Lowe’s Home Improvement, Boeing, WalMart and many other corporations, she writes, with self-funded health plans under ERISA, have the freedom to contract with any hospital, anywhere in the world without going through a managed care network, but can’t because the hospitals with lots of value to offer simply don’t seem interested enough to talk to them.

She wants to know why not? In order for her to find the answer to that and other questions, she is asking her colleagues in healthcare business development and business administration who are executives at leading healthcare institutions and well-equipped ASCs across America: “Why do you eschew medical tourism business?

This question, and the others that she poses in her article, also relate to outbound medical tourism as well.

Why do employers, insurance companies, the domestic health care industry, which is beset by so many problems and potential shortages and inefficiencies, as well as the entire workers’ compensation industry eschew medical travel for non-work-related illnesses and diseases, and work-related injuries requiring surgery?

I’ve written about this many times before. I have cited American Exceptionalism, racism, xenophobia, greed, ignorance of the quality of medical care abroad, and many other factors, but as Maria points out for US hospitals turning down cash patients, employers and carriers can save money by looking outside our broken and dysfunctional medical care system under workers’ comp.

It’s high time the US joins the rest of the world, and allows our citizens the freedom to go wherever they want for medical care, no matter what the cause, or condition that prompts them to seek medical care that is high quality, and will save money for their employer, and provide them an opportunity to see the world that also belongs to them.

Not to do so is tantamount to enslavement to a corrupt and rigged system that benefits unscrupulous physicians, pharmacies, pain management centers, and other workers’ comp service providers, and harms injured workers.

Medical travel will happen. Resist at your peril.

New Hospital Rating System: A Step in the Right Direction?

Introduction

I received an invitation to connect on LinkedIn last Friday from Tucson Dunn, the CEO of Hanovera Healthcare International. After viewing his LinkedIn profile, I accepted his invitation. Prior to becomig CEO of Hanovera, Mr. Dunn was also the Chairman and CEO of the International Healthcare Commission (IHC) from June 2008 to June 2013.

Monday morning, I received an email from Mr. Dunn, introducing me to the International Healthcare Commission, and announcing that next month, the IHC will launch their “International Hospital Ratings” to identify hospitals that treat high numbers of foreign patients. Mr. Dunn also stated that this Award Mark will serve to attract more foreign patients to come to the top rated hospitals and cities.

According to Mr. Dunn, the Rating Criteria is simple and based on the annual volume of foreign patients treated (outpatient or inpatient) at the hospital. The ratings are listed below:

Over 1000 ― International Hospital rating
Over 5000 ― Distinguished International Hospital rating
Over 10,000 ― Outstanding International Hospital rating
Over 15,000 ― Premier International Hospital rating
Over 20,000 ― World Leading International Hospital rating

When I responded to his email, I asked him if this rating reflected actual medical tourists, i.e., those traveling from their home countries to a medical tourism destination, or does it include ex-pats living in those countries and getting medical care at those hospitals? I told him that many people engaged in the medical tourism industry have told me that most numbers are inflated with regard to actual medical tourists abroad.

In his follow up to my query, he said that was a very good question, and that it was the main topic of debate within the IHC for the past year. The final ruling, he said, leaned towards the Service Delivery itself. He also explained that if a hospital is treating vast numbers of international patients, then they know how to treat international patients, regardless of point of origin.

To summarize, he said, the award is not an indicator of inbound medical tourism, but rather a statement of capability based on performance. Same is true for Surgery Volume: If the hospital does 1000 CABGs in one year, then they probably know how to do CABGs. The Cardiac Surgery Award reflects the volume of Cardiac Surgery performed.

I responded that that will at least let those who are involved with inbound medical tourism, meaning both facilitators and patients, know which hospitals are the better ones in medical tourism destinations, based solely on the number of procedures performed at those hospitals. From those ratings, interested parties can probe deeper to find out just how good they are at performing those procedures, their success rates, outcomes, etc.

Mr. Dunn agreed, and then asked me to consider how many foreign patients come to the US for treatment per year. His reply stated that cost of those foreign patients was nearly US$5 billion worth. But as for which hospitals treat foreign patients, which hospitals have systems in place for large volumes, Mr. Dunn said, the IHC can help address those questions.

As an example, Mr. Dunn mentioned that the Medicover Hospital of Poland received a rating as a Distinguished International Hospital, based on the fact that they treated 8,614 foreign patients over the past twelve months. He went on to explain that if you were traveling as a tourist in Poland and needed a hospital, this award would be meaningful to you as a potential patient, since it would indicate that they have experience dealing with foreign patients, and that you would know that the staff could speak English.

About the International Healthcare Commission

The International Healthcare Commission is an independent healthcare ratings organization founded in 2009 in Atlanta, Georgia, and rates healthcare provider performance throughout the world. According to their website, the IHC is the Gold Standard for the international healthcare ratings industry. Likewise, they are the oldest, independent international healthcare performance ratings company. The IHC provides patients, referring physicians and payers with vital information they need when choosing an international healthcare provider.

The IHC supports hospitals, clinics and healthcare systems to achieve peak performance in international patient care. They help healthcare providers attract patient referrals. The IHC Rating Awards are recognized as Gold Seals of Approval, and they provide clear marks of distinction for performance, and they are evidence-based. The rating and award systems cover the following:

Foreign Patient Volumes
Surgical Procedure Volumes
Maternity Care

Their Mission

The International Healthcare Commission (IHC) works to guide patients and referring physicians to better healthcare providers. The IHC has been conducting healthcare market research in over 100 countries since 2009. IHC partners with hospitals, clinics, health systems and insurance companies to promote best-practice healthcare.

Their Ratings

International Hospital Ratings

There are five levels of International Hospital Ratings, and they identify hospitals that have dedicated systems, staff and resources for the care and treatment of foreign patients, as well as local patient communities.

International Hospital Rating

The IHC’s International Hospital Rating is the first rating level indicating that the hospital has achieved significant experience in the care and treatment of international patients. Hospitals achieving this level are rated and recognized as “International Hospitals” The criteria that determines this level is any hospital that treats over 1,000 foreign patients per year.

Distinguished International Hospital Rating

The IHC’s Distinguished International Hospital Rating is the second rating level indicating that the hospital has achieved substantial experience in the care and treatment of international patients. Hospitals achieving this level will be recognized and considered as “Distinguished International Hospitals”. The criteria that determines this level is any hospital that treats over 5,000 foreign patients per year.

Outstanding International Hospital Rating

The IHC’s Outstanding International Hospital Rating is the third rating level indicating that the hospital has achieved outstanding experience in the care and treatment of international patients. Hospitals achieving this level will be recognized and considered as “Outstanding International Hospitals”. The criteria that determines this level is any hospital that treats over 10,000 foreign patients per year.

Premier International Hospital Rating

The IHC’s second highest level of recognition is the Premier International Hospital Rating. This rating indicates that the hospital has achieved premier experience in the care and treatment of international patients. Hospitals achieving this level will be recognized and considered as “Premier International Hospitals”. The criteria that determines this level is any hospital that treats over 15,000 foreign patients per year.

World Leading International Hospital Rating

This is IHC’s highest rating for care and treatment of international patients. Only a few hospitals in the world ever achieve this level of experience and expertise. These elite hospitals are truly specialized in providing international care. Hospitals achieving this level are recognized and considered as “World Leading International Hospitals”. The criteria that determines this level is any hospital that treats over 20,000 foreign patients per year.

Surgery Excellence Ratings

IHC’s Surgery Excellence Ratings help patients, physicians and insurance companies identify surgical expertise and experience. Surgery Excellence Rating levels are based on annual number of surgical procedures within a surgical specialty area. These are the surgical specialty areas:

Cardiac Surgery Eye Surgery
General Surgery Gynecological Surgery
Neurosurgery Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery
Orthopedic Surgery Otolaryngology
Pediatric Surgery Plastic Surgery
Surgical Oncology Thoracic Surgery
Trauma Surgery Urology
Vascular Surgery

There are three levels of Surgery Excellence Ratings:

International Surgical Excellence Rating

The IHC’s Surgery Excellence Rating indicates that the provider has achieved significant experience in the selected specialty surgical area. Organizations achieving this level are rated and recognized as “Excellent” in the surgical specialty. The criteria that determines this level are 300 to 499 surgeries in the specialty per year.

International Five-Star Surgery Rating

The IHC’s Five-Star Surgery Rating indicates that the provider has achieved outstanding experience in the selected specialty surgical area. Organizations achieving this level are rated and recognized as achieving “Five-Star” performance in the surgical specialty. The criteria that determines this level are 500 to 999 surgeries in the specialty per year.

International Center of Excellence Rating

The International Center of Excellence for Surgery Rating is the highest international rating available. This elite rating indicates the organization performed over 1,000 surgeries in the specialty area within one year.

International Clinic Ratings

Like the International Hospital Ratings, there are five International Clinic Ratings. IHC’s International Clinic Ratings identify stand-alone outpatient centers that have dedicated systems, staff and resources for care and treatment of foreign patients, as well as local patient communities. And like the International Hospital Ratings, foreign patients have unique language, customs and cultural needs that must be considered when providing care and treatment. The international patients want to know that their provider can accommodate these unique needs. One of the best indicators of this capability is experience in treating significant volume of foreign patients each year. This volume indicator serves as the basis of IHC’s International Clinic Rating.

International Clinic Rating

The IHC’s International Clinic Rating is the first rating level indicating that the ambulatory care center has achieved significant experience in the care and treatment of international outpatient patients. Clinics achieving this level are rated and recognized as “International Clinics”. The criteria that determines this level is any clinic that treats over 1,000 foreign patients per year.

Distinguished International Clinic Rating

The IHC’s Distinguished International Clinic Rating is the second rating level indicating that the clinic has achieved substantial experience in the care and treatment of international patients. Clinics achieving this level will be recognized and considered as “Distinguished International Clinics”. The criteria that determines this level is any clinic that treats over 5,000 foreign patients per year.

Outstanding International Clinic Rating

The IHC’s Outstanding International Clinic Rating is the third rating level indicating that the clinic has achieved outstanding experience in the care and treatment of international patients. Clinics achieving this level will be recognized and considered as “Outstanding International Clinics”. The criteria that determines this level is any clinic that treats over 10,000 foreign patients per year.

Premier International Clinic Rating

The IHC’s second highest level of recognition is Premier International Clinic Rating. This rating indicates that the ambulatory care center has achieved premier experience in the care and treatment of international patients. Stand-alone clinics achieving this level will be recognized and considered as “Premier International Clinics”. The criteria that determines this level is any clinic that treats over 15,000 foreign patients per year.

World Leading International Clinic Rating

This is IHC’s highest rating for care and treatment of international patients. Only a few ambulatory care centers in the world ever achieve this level of experience and expertise. These elite clinics are truly specialized in providing international care. Clinics achieving this level are recognized and considered as “World Leading International Clinics”. The criteria that determines this level is any clinic that treats over 20,000 foreign patients per year.

What this means

Naturally, judging any enterprise by the volume of work performed does not necessarily tell us a lot about how well they perform that work. And knowing how many foreign patients a hospital treats per year does not tell us if these patients are real medical tourists, i.e., traveling from their home country to a medical tourism destination hospital, or are ex-patriots living in that particular country and getting medical care in a foreign hospital. This was the question I posed to Mr. Dunn earlier this week.

If that was the case, McDonalds would be a great company that serves the best hamburgers in the world, based solely on the billions of hamburgers sold, and on how many restaurants they have around the world.

What is missing from these ratings is quality of care, outcome measures, success rates of surgeries, and a host of other vital data which can tell a patient, their referring physician, their employer or their employer’s insurance company, that the foreign hospital and foreign physicians are just as good as or better than what is available locally.

Also missing from these ratings are the level of expertise of the physicians and nurses, and the professionalism and attention to detail that determines patient care. And finally, knowing whether or not the hospital or clinic has the latest technology and proficiency to use that technology is crucial to ascertain the true level of excellence of any hospital or clinic.

In many of my previous posts, the issue of transparency has come up, and generally I have written that the medical tourism industry needs to become more transparent on issues of price and quality, because that is the main selling point the industry makes to its customers and potential customers. Whether such transparency comes from the industry itself, or from outside, independent organizations like the International Healthcare Commission.

Like any other product or service, health care has its many rankings and ratings, but taken together, ratings from the IHC, JCI, NCQA, ISQua and other accreditation organizations, may be able to tell individuals, employers, and carriers that these facilities have obtained a baseline of care and expertise. More data is needed before medical tourism can be taken seriously as an alternative to high price and substandard medical care, but until that happens, this organization may be a step in the right direction.