Convenient Care

Molly Rowe, for HealthLeaders Media, April 25, 2008

The Boston Marathon attracts thousands of runners from all over the world every year. Monday’s race was no different. My starting-line neighbors included a nice couple from Utah, a fast-looking Swede, a Canadian decked out in maple leafs down to her socks, and about 30 runners waving Japanese flags.

As I looked around at all these travelers, I couldn’t help but wonder why someone would travel—from Japan no less—to run 26.2 miles? The only thing worse than the run itself would be boarding an airplane for home at the end of the day or sleeping in a hotel bed. “It’s so inconvenient,” I thought. “It would be like traveling to Thailand for heart surgery.” Oh, wait.

This month’s Fast Company magazine features the world-famous Bumrungrad International, a posh, high-tech 554-bed hospital in Bangkok. Between 2001 and 2003, foreign patients at Bumrungrad more than doubled to 430,000, and, according to the article, the majority of the hospital’s revenue is generated by overseas patients.

Patients travel to Bumrungrad because it offers brand-new facilities, all digital records, and treatments, like stem cell therapy, that aren’t available in the U.S. Even open heart surgery has been replaced by a better, quicker, and safer procedure.

Experts predict “medical tourism,” a seemingly crazy idea for retired bargain hunters, will soon become “globalized healthcare.” It won’t just be for the adventurous or the uninsured; it will be for everyone.

This week’s news supports those predictions. South Carolina-based Companion Global Healthcare added three Singapore hospitals to its network, making international care an option for more than one million members of Blue Cross Blue Shield and BlueChoice HealthPlan of South Carolina.

If you’re a senior leader at an American-based hospital, the news that global healthcare is becoming more accessible should make you worry.

Convenience, after all, is your core strength. International hospitals, no matter how good they get, won’t ever be “home.” And for a lot of patients, the promise of newer hospitals and expanded treatment options doesn’t compare with the convenience and familiarity of their local hospitals.

So, as international care becomes more accessible, it’s more important than ever for leaders of American hospitals to make sure their facilities really are convenient. Scheduling appointments and accessing test results must be faster and easier than boarding a plane to Thailand. Appointments must be available in a reasonable timeframe. Doctors must return calls and e-mails (they do at Bumrungrad). And safety, good customer service, and transparency must be guaranteed.

As CEOs increasingly spend their time focused on high-level strategic plans, they’d be wise to pay attention to their hospitals’ day-to-day details and how they affect convenience. Because, while you’re adding service lines to compete with your competitors across town, hospitals across the world are getting patients in and out faster, marketing to patients better, and, now, making it easier to pay. Like traveling to run the Boston Marathon, flying to Thailand for healthcare suddenly seems a lot less crazy.

Molly Rowe is leadership editor with HealthLeaders magazine. She can be reached at
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