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South Florida hoping to attract more medical tourists

Most people are probably aware that there are citizens of the United States who leave the country to obtain cheaper medical care. People may not be aware however that more and more often, citizens of other countries are seeking medical treatment in the U.S. Broward and Palm Beach counties in Florida are two areas that are reaping the rewards of the temporary visitors who are sometimes called medical tourists.

There appear to be two main reasons the people come to the U.S. for medical treatment. First, the treatment they are in need of may not be available in their home country. This is particularly true in cases where the treatment is sophisticated. Another reason is familiar to American citizens who leave this country for medical procedures-the price. Sometimes the treatment a foreigner is in need of is less expensive in their own country.

Not all of the people visiting the U.S. for treatment are rich. Many have a regular job with health insurance benefits. According to heal officials, three-quarters of those who choose South Florida for treatment are in this situation living in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Currently, South Florida takes in a half-billion dollars due to foreign patients. In an effort to boost revenue, health care officials in South Florida are doing what they can to woo additional patients from overseas. Two hospitals, Holy Cross Hospital located in Fort Lauderdale and North Broward Hospital District recently opened international departments.

The financial benefits associated with medical tourism extend beyond just the hospitals providing the treatment. It is not uncommon for family members to accompany the patients and engage in shopping to pass the time. They also need to pay for a place to stay.

Several hospitals in Florida have attempted to capture this group in the past with limited success. This is at least in part due to the U.S. government's tightening of visitor requirements after the terrorist attacks in 2001. Those that have been able to make a go of their international departments say that referrals from medical providers in the patent's home country are a major key to their success. Whether the hospitals with the new departments fare as well remains to be seen.

Source: Sun Sentinel, "New push to bring overseas patients to South Florida," Bob LaMendola, Feb. 21, 2012

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