Spa and Medical Tourism – Learning From What Happened in Detroit
by Susie Ellis, SpaFinder Insider
Many of you know that one of the top spa trends SpaFinder predicted for 2009 was the Medical and Spa Tourism Shuffle, so it didn’t surprise us when the New York Times recently ran an article titled, “Heads Up – Medical Tourism: Sometimes, Sightseeing Is a Look at Your X-Rays.” I wanted to share my thoughts on this article (which I thought was fine) but more importantly on the editorials that appeared subsequently. They, in my opinion, showed naivety.
The article, was written by Joshua Kurlantzick and ran May 20th – at just about the same time we were listening to a panel of experts on Medical Tourism and Spas at the Global Spa Summit (GSS). Joshua shared his experience while in Thailand where he fainted and was rushed to the hospital by a taxi. He was taken to Bumrungrad International Hospital (lobby pictured below) where there was no waiting, where he had first class service from a very competent doctor, and ended up paying just $100 for all the care, the room and medication provided. He goes on to talk about the pluses and minuses of getting medical care in a foreign country.
I have been to that very hospital – Bumrungrad in Bangkok. I toured it a few years ago because I had been told it was a cross between a Ritz Carlton, a hospital, and a spa. And to some degree it was – I was very impressed with their concierge service welcoming people, entire floors dedicated to certain nationalities (like the Japanese) with translators, and unique décor, etc. Their children’s area had fun small furniture and play stations and the walls were brightly colored and doors painted to resemble living in a small world. There was a gym to work out at, spa services available, and an outdoor meditation area (which I thought they should scrap and make into a spa because who wants to spend time meditating out on the top floor of a building in Bangkok where it is hot and smoggy). Other than some of the fast food franchises on one of their shopping floors, it seemed like a “hospital of the future” to me.
The NY Times article was interesting and raised some good questions and made some great points. But some editorials (many from doctors) that appeared in the Times a few weeks later had me rolling my eyes. Here is the gist of some of the comments:
“Is Medical tourism a good thing? Not really, I’m afraid. Here in the United States, hospitals lose revenue. That’s dollars that used to cross-subsidize emergency rooms, charity care and chronic medical admissions for sick citizens here.”
“I wonder about the quality of the services provided…what about the blood supplies? How safe are they? What kind of regulation and oversight is there?”
“Medical tourism in the end, hurts poor countries who end up subsidizing the cost of heath care for rich countries.”
In general…most of the editorials brought up “red flags” about medical tourism warning that it is not good for the U.S.
To that I say – wake up!
Fortunately there was one comment which, in my opinion, had a wiser point of view. The writer stated, “The American medical industry should view with concern the off shoring of medical care. When foreign cars began appearing with greater frequency in the 1960s, Detroit mostly dismissed them as filling a small niche for people who wanted cheap, perhaps inferior transportation. But the cars got better, and look who is commanding the market today.”
I thought the analogy of the U.S. car industry and medical tourism was a good one. While clearly we need to ask questions and insist on transparency and quality when it comes to Medical Tourism abroad, it might be a good idea for us to think about what happened to Detroit when we start talking like Detroit was talking for the past few decades. To stubbornly stick with systems which are unsustainable financially while the rest of the world innovates, catches up and surpasses us is foolish. How unwise to dismiss what is happening in other countries – especially when it comes to medical care given that our system is already plagued with problems. We do so at our peril.
In some ways I feel that spa industry professionals are way ahead of doctors on this – I saw it at the GSS where the medical tourism panel was well received. In general I don’t see the “protectionist” attitude within the spa industry – perhaps it is because there are fewer dollars involved as there are with medicine. Spa professionals are not compensated at the high levels that many in the medical field are (insurance companies, some doctors, etc.) and so perhaps they aren’t as rabid about keeping the status quo. Spa professionals seem to genuinely encourage people to avail themselves of a variety of services – whether within the U.S. or outside of the U.S – whether to keep well or get well.
In my view, spas are great bookends for medical tourism procedures. After flying to Bangkok (or India, or South Africa, or Costa Rica, or the Philippines, etc.), it makes sense to me to spend some time at a good spa getting adjusted from jet lag, eating healthfully, and getting body mind and spirit ready for a medical procedure. After then checking into a hospital and having a procedure, it would make good sense to recover at a spa where healing treatments, healthy food, light exercise, fresh air and such could help optimize healing.
Next time you hear the term “medical tourism” – think “U.S. car industry.” Perhaps we can learn from our mistakes in Detroit and participate more successfully in a global world of health care and spa experiences.
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