In my determination to bring you information about the thousands of entrepreneurial opportunities that exist, I have the fun experience of talking to many different people.
A few weeks ago, someone left a comment on my blog post about concierge medicine that intrigued me. She wrote:
I welcome entrepreneurial MDs to consider cooperating with specialists abroad. As an international medical concierge, working in both the US and Thailand, I am witness to a global paradigm shift in delivery of medical care - to Americans who willingly travel for specialized procedures, and other world citizens.
The movement towards developing American entrepreneurial MDs is only a small part of this global change. I urge the entrepreneurial or concierge doctor to consider care beyond borders for their patients. This will truly be caring concierge MD service.
Julie shared briefly with me her journey from former nurse's aide as a youngster, to spouse of a foreign correspondent posted to several Asian countries over many years, and entrepreneur who has been interested in healthcare for many years. Several years ago, she became aware of the emerging interest in "medical tourism" (variously called "international medicine" and "global medical care") as a way to counter the exorbitant costs of many of the surgical procedures faced here in the USA by the 61 million under- and uninsured.
Being very knowledgeable about the local cultures and services, Julie made it her business, literally, to become a true Medical Concierge (picture that helpful person near the check-in desk at your favorite resort) - a facilitator connecting foreigners, mainly from the US, to the best medical services in Thailand and Singapore and helping negotiate package prices for a number of expensive medical procedures. She also has an arrangement with travel agencies, who can put together the travel package (including the post-op vacation if you're up to it!!)
The surge in interest in medical tourism has not been without its controversy! With concerns ranging from quality, lack of safety, language and cultural barriers, lack of recourse through litigation in the event of a bad outcome, inadequate post-op follow up on return to the US etc., opponents are making themselves heard. Like most new ideas, there are pros and cons.
However, several forces are converging to make medical tourism a likely future fixture in the healthcare landscape.
Third-party payer interest. According to Julie Munro, companies such as AIG, Blue Cross and United Group Programs are looking into creating plans that reimburse for care in foreign countries and this is borne out by the press.
International accreditation by Joint Commission International is on the rise. Applying US standards of accreditation for healthcare facilities to international hospitals, JCI is being kept busy by the many foreign institutions that have applied for accreditation.
Companies are beginning to take notice as a way to manage costs that are spiralling out of control.
Organizations are emerging to provide oversight. Be they "concierge companies" like Julie's InterMedGlobal or the California-based PlanetHospital or true watch-dog non-profits such as HealthCare Trip, an small industry of enterprising entrepreneurs is emerging to shepherd these new ventures as part of the solution to our healthcare crisis.
The Baby Boomers' healthcare needs.
I learned from Julie that many of the big-name surgeons and physicians in countries such as Thailand, Singapore and India have received not only a medical education modeled directly on the US or British medical school systems, but also extensive post-grad fellowship training at the finest US institutions. They are respected by their academic counterparts in this country and are very gracious about referring their "foreign" US patients back to their esteemed US counterparts, should that be necessary.
There is a real opportunity for entrepreneurially- and service-minded physicians to learn more about this growing trend, to understand what is at stake and to educate themselves about the global array of services available for their patients.
And for the doc who loves to travel and absorb him- or herself in a local culture while figuring out how to navigate the country's healthcare system on behalf of patients, this might just be your perfect next business opportunity!
What are your thoughts?