Medical Tourism Has Come to the U.S.A.

This Health Alert comes exclusively from an article by Nina Bernstein in The New York Times.

Some hospital rooms are like the Four Seasons:

The bed linens were by Frette, Italian purveyors of high-thread-count sheets to popes and princes. The bathroom gleamed with polished marble. Huge windows displayed panoramic East River views. And in the hush of her $2,400 suite, a man in a black vest and tie proffered an elaborate menu and told her, “I’ll be your butler.”

It was Greenberg 14 South, the elite wing on the new penthouse floor of NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell hospital. Pampering and décor to rival a grand hotel, if not a Downton Abbey, have long been the hallmark of such “amenities units,” often hidden behind closed doors at New York’s premier hospitals. But the phenomenon is escalating here and around the country, health care design specialists say, part of an international competition for wealthy patients willing to pay extra, even as the federal government cuts back…

If I were a rich man.

It’s more common than you think:

Many American hospitals offer a V.I.P. amenities floor with a dedicated chef and lavish services, from Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, which promises “the ultimate in pampering” in its $3,784 maternity suites. The rise of medical tourism to glittering hospitals in places like Singapore and Thailand has turned coddling and elegance into marketing necessities, designers say…

But it’s all hush-hush:

NewYork-Presbyterian, which once opposed amenities units, would not answer questions about its shift, and declined a reporter’s request for a tour…

And definitely not for the masses:

In space-starved New York, many regular hospital rooms are still double-occupancy, though singles are now the national standard for infection control and quicker recovery…

The customer (oops) patient is always right:

“We pride ourselves on getting anything the patient wants. If they have a craving for lobster tails and we don’t have them on the menu, we’ll go out and get them,” [said] William Duffy, Mount Sinai Medical Center’s director of hospitality…

Avoiding the interns:

“I’m perfectly at home here — totally private, totally catered,” [Nancy Hemenway, a senior financial services executive] added. “I have a primary-care physician who also acts as ringmaster for all my other doctors. And I see no people in training — only the best of the best.” …

Serving the merely well-off:

Beth Israel Medical Center’s…green-carpeted lobby may be more Radisson than Ritz, but its 12 single rooms starting at $450 feature Bose stereos and flat-screen TVs, and chef-prepared kosher food is served on china…

And hospital administrators are apologetic:

Wayne Keathley, Mount Sinai’s president, minimized the unit’s role… “It is not nearly as large or elaborate as some others,” Mr. Keathley said. He called the money it brought in “a rounding error in my budget,” and said that patients came for the clinical care, not the amenities…

Gail Donovan, the chief operating officer of Continuum Partners, which includes Beth Israel and St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital [said] “Our mission is really to be the safety net hospitals of our communities.” …


Comments (21)

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  1. ralph weber, says:

    At we routinely send patients to centers across the US for medical care. We have developed a few hubs where costs are very competitive, and technology is excellent. As a matter of fact, we have been bringing Canadians to the US for medical care for many years, and our Chief Medical Officer is a Canadian doctor who defected to Minneapolis. SOme of the hospitals that are trying to lure patients attempt to do their own marketing, and their targets are Saudi Sheiks and princes, where they can make a ton of money on one patients, while others will pay a kickback to a facilitator (which may contradict fee-splitting laws). The fac it, that medical tourism, both domestic and international is a growing trend. Deloitte estimates that as much as $599.5 billion per year of medical care will leave the US by 2017.

  2. Laura Carabello says:

    US-domestic medical travel presents multiple opportunities to America’s Centers of Excellence. Employers are now recognizing that the inclusion of a medical travel benefit will be well-received — just look at Pepsico and Lowe’s as shining examples.

    As publisher and editor of Medical Travel Today, I hear regularly from all the international hospitals about their amenities. It’s refreshing to now hear that our own institutions are “outdoing” the foreign competition.

  3. Tom H. says:

    Very interesting post.

  4. Davie says:

    If hospitals were willing to translate these gains into lower costs for the rest of its visitors it’d be a great thing. My only fear is that if the rich get the “best of the best,” who will I see if I attend those hospitals?

  5. Buster says:

    Over the years I have traveled quite a bit for both business and pleasure. In the process, I’ve stayed in my fair share of hotel rooms. I generally try to hold my costs down to under $200 a night if reasonably possible. Indeed, I’ve got some great deals on Hotwire, where I’ve paid only a fraction of that. However, I don’t hold a grudge against those well-heeled guests who are willing to want to spend, say, $1,000 a night, for exclusive amenities that I choose not to pay for.

    What I find amusing about this article is that some people find it controversial that hospitals are willing to cater to those people who are willing to spend an extra $500 per day for amenities. Big deal! How is hospital care any different than other service? If you’re crammed in a semi-private room and don’t like the swill the hospital cafeteria serves, then go seek care somewhere else!

    Some women buy their purses at Kmart, while some buy them at Coach. The presence of Coach does not deprive the Kmart shopper of anything.

  6. Vicki says:

    I like Buster’s comment.

  7. Linda Gorman says:

    Finally a commitment to comfort in hospitals. I’ve never understood the mentality of those who think that social justice somehow requires that those who are sick must be required to share rooms with equally sick strangers who are hard of hearing and like to watch Oprah at full volume.

  8. Uwe Reinhardt says:

    Love the video. It’s Romney’s campaign song.

  9. ralph weber, says:

    Some of our facilities, especially the overseas ones, look like 7 star resorts

  10. Uwe Reinhardt says:

    I agree with Buster, though: Why is anyone (a) surprised by this and (b) upset by it?

    As to Davie, you will cared for by doctors and nurses who are not busy catering to the upper crust. Get used to it.

  11. Matt says:

    At least the women buying the purse at Kmart or Coach were able to see the price before making their purchase. The real money maker for this hospital is not what they are charging for the suite. It is in what they are charging for the medical care that they provide to the patients. This hospital made over $600 million in profit the past two years. Not bad since they are a not for profit. According to their filing with CMS this facility has an average markup of 300% over cost.

  12. Larry says:

    Capitalism is alive and well in some areas.


  13. Uwe Reinhardt says:


    Can you provide links to the sources you cite. What ytou say is not implausible.

  14. Matt says:

    Uwe, the information can be obtained through the American Hospital Directory, Basic information is free. Detailed information requires an annual membership.

  15. Joann says:

    The headline makes it sound as if this is new, but rich foreigners were coming here for medical care long before the term “medical tourism” was invented. The “medical tourism” concept was created when other countries developed hospitals good enough for Americans to consider going there for affordable care of acceptable quality.

  16. Uwe Reinhardt says:

    Thanks, Matt. I wish all NFP hospitals would have to post their Form 990s on their websites, as FP hospitals must (or at least do).

    John should write a post on it. I can’t get indignant the way he does.

  17. John Goodman says:

    OK, maybe I will write about it.

  18. Bob Kramer says:

    Check out Presby, Baylor, SW med center, and Med City in Dallas. They all have special areas. Parkland has, or had one too.

    Dr Bob Kramer

  19. CP says:

    What an inappropriately named article – this isn’t about “medical tourism” at all. Maybe title should have been, “5-Star hospital stays becoming more common.” Then again, maybe the author doesn’t understand the term “medical tourism”. Not one mention made of foreign nationals visiting the US for medical procedures…

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