Michigan Hospital Looks for Patients North of the Border

Doug Desjardins, for HealthLeaders Media, January 19, 2011

The concept of medical tourism usually applies to U.S. citizens venturing overseas for procedures that are less expensive than they are in the U.S. But the idea can work both ways.

Port Huron Hospital in Michigan recently launched a campaign to attract Canadian residents to its hospital for operations and procedures that aren't readily available in Canada or involve a long wait. The hospital that sits near the third- busiest border crossing into Canada rolled out an ad campaign in December to let their neighbors know the healthcare they need is just a short drive over the Blue Water Bridge into the U.S.

"For us, it's about generating extra revenue but it's also about the fact that we've been here since 1882 and we're very community-oriented," said Sherry Sheleny, a spokeswoman for Port Huron Hospital. "We just want to improve the health of the community and they are part of our community, even though they're in another country."

Port Huron contracted with a consulting group in Canada to market the hospital to residents in the border cities of Sarnia, London and the surrounding area. The multi-media campaign is using billboards, print ads, a Web-site, and radio commercials to let residents know that quick and convenient service is just a border crossing away. Sheleny said it's still too early to tell how well the campaign is working.

The marketing effort focuses on a key problem in the Canadian health system: long wait times for tests and procedures. So for people on the Ontario Health Insurance Plan worried about a serious illness and not in the mood to wait weeks or months for diagnostic tests, Port Huron Hospital is offering an alternative that provides peace of mind even if patients have to pay out-of-pocket.

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