More evidence the healthcare world is flat

I'm writing this on my flight back to Seattle from the Consumer Health World Conference in Washington, D.C.  The conference is actually just getting underway.  My stay was abbreviated due to the fact that I have a mid-week speaking engagement in California followed by a return trip to D.C. at week's end to speak at the World Healthcare Innovation and IT Congress

My brief stay at Consumer Health World was to facilitate a faculty leadership summit.  I've done this the past three years and always find it interesting.  This year we debated the fate of employer paid health insurance, the rise of medical tourism, and the future of primary care.  While all of the topics generated lively debate, I was perhaps most impressed by the rapid expansion of the overseas health industry and medical tourism.

Consumer Health World 030 This growth was evident on the exhibit floor where at least half a dozen booths were sponsored by healthcare organizations operating outside the US.  Some of the countries represented included Guatemala, Panama, Singapore, Thailand, and India.  There were also exhibits by companies that specialize in recruiting patients for overseas medical care and organizing their travel.

I had time to attend a presentation from the Bangkok Hospital Group, a for-profit organization comprising 19 hospitals in Thailand.  The group's International Hospital cared for more than 720,000 expatriates last year.  That was a 49 percent increase over the previous year.  The hospital's staff is comprised of more than 600 physicians representing every specialty.  30 percent of the physicians received their training in the US, UK or Europe. 

Consumer Health World 022 Bangkok Medical Group aggressively recruits overseas patients for a wide variety of treatments including cancer therapy, orthopedic surgery, cardio-thoracic surgery, plastic and reconstructive surgery, and a few treatments not available in the US such as stem cell therapy for end stage heart failure.  Prices for these treatments and procedures are totally transparent.  They range from just 10 to 30 percent of the cost for equivalent care in the United States.  The facilities are JCAHO accredited. 

These hospitals in Thailand are no ordinary facilities even by US standards.  Most American hospital administrators would be green with envy. The all-private-room facilities look more like 5-star hotels than hospitals and sport the very latest top-of-the-line imaging devices, therapeutic modalities, and information technologies.  And unlike American Hospitals, when you check in for service here you know exactly how much you'll pay upon discharge.

Consumer Health World 027 In many ways this would be the story of American automobile manufacturing all over again were it not for the fact that not all patients can or will go overseas for treatment.  But as the world grows flatter, in much the same way that the Japanese and Koreans have transformed the auto industry, global competition is making American healthcare a target for some revolutionary changes.  And contemporary IT will play a significant role in all of this by making health information, healthcare quality, and pricing totally transparent and by facilitating communication and collaboration between care teams and patients across the seven seas.

Bill Crounse, MD   Senior Director, Worldwide Health     Microsoft Corporation    

Comments (10)

  1. Michael Sattler says:


    Great article was wondering if you were still at the show tomorrow Wednesday?  I am from Austin, Texas getting ready to launch a medical tourism company called MedSource international in January.  We have a very unique and strategic partnership in Asia and I was wondering if I might get 10 or 15 minutes of your time tomorrow to talk with you.  My cell number is 512-577-2646 would love to touch base with you before I leave tomorrow.

    Sincerely Michael Sattler

  2. hlthblog says:

    Thanks for writing, Michael.

    I just sent off an e-mail to your personal address. Good luck in your new venture.

    Bill Crounse, MD

  3. The Alchemist says:

    You heard the one about Disney running healthcare.  Who in their right would want to go to Disneyland for healthcare?  Disneyland for medical tourism sounds like a fun time.

    Personally, I want a 5 star patient experience from the Saint Ritz Carlton Medical Center including obligatory valet parking, private room to brag about back home and facility resources that guarantee me 5 star patient care.  Oh, I want this care to be affordable with a money back guarantee or a complimentary readmission if not satisfied.  One last request; I want the Saint Ritz Carlton Medical Center IDN to have a facility close to my home.  Maybe the Michael More Medical Center would try harder to compete?

  4. Taylor Miles says:

    I agree I think Thailand is a perfect destination for Health tourism or Medical Travel.

  5. The old paradigm stated that healthcare markets were local, almost by nature. Indeed, healthcare systems are still regulated at city, state and country levels, establishing arbitrary (and anticompetitive) geographic boundaries to the provision of health services.

    Medical tourism to exotic countries for high-ticket procedures is an obvious example that breaks with the tradition of “locality”. But an even more significant development might be in the making, the growth of “intra-country” medical trips to specialized providers in locations other than your place of residence. Cheaper travel makes it possible, along with a trend towards focused-factory operations that achieve both excellence and learning and scale economies.

    Also, many health services do not need a presential encounter and could be provided by phone, email or other applications (a real possibility that is however constrained by the reluctance from third-party payers to reimburse these new services). But again, physician and patient need not live in the same place.

    Although it is difficult to predict how rapidly it will evolve, globalization (a fact of life for almost any other industry) is coming to healthcare.

  6. hlthblog says:


    Thanks for sharing your wisdom.  Regarding"virtual consultations" via messaging, e-mail and personalized telemedicine applications; the good news is that payors around the world are beginning to understand the economic value proposition for using these tools.  Not only can we provision care more efficiently this way, and with greater reach, but the savings and satisfaction associated with such care can be truly significant.

    Bill Crounse, MD

  7. It will be interesting to talk about global innovations in healthcare. See you at the WHC-IT conference.

  8. Don Wood says:

    Hello Bill,

    Allow me to introduce you to our successful medical tourism company specializing in India, America’s Medical Solutions Pvt., Ltd. Because we live here 24/7/365, and because we are Americans ourselves, and because we’ve been here over twenty years, we are a comforting voice and a warm hand to hold when so far from home undergoing serious surgery. We keep contact with the family and friends and ever so many other functions.

    Folks who have never traveled outside the United States but require Indian medical attention and prices find our free services absolutely essential. The doctors, hospitals and clinics pay us referral fees, so we are a genuinely free concierge service, and one without commitments to anyone except our client.

    We have valuable experience pointing our inquirers to a number of qualified hospitals, doctors and clinics for every imaginable procedure, including the latest in hip resurfacing, LASIK procedures, etc., which the US has only just approved and instituted. Our surgeons have had more than four years of practice in these fields, and you may even know of them teaching their counterparts in the States.

    Because we live here, we are the silent but ever searching eyes keeping daily tabs on the accredited institutions, and they know it.

    We help with virtually everything you can imagine from the bios on the physicians to reasonably priced long term stays all of which spells out "peace of mind," to patient and the home folks alike. We are a complete destination management company and absolutely free of cost.

    Our concierge services include sightseeing and all kinds of activity planning keeping the time of year and holidays in mind. We cater the finest five star hotels to clean, westernized and inexpensive bed & breakfast establishments. We require our service providers to give us transparent all-inclusive packages and prices. Our concierge services include all airfares, domestic & International, lodging, transfers, special seating and accommodations required by the patient and their traveling companion(s). As a matter of fact, with India’s pricing, one can afford to throw the whole family on a plane and enjoy one of the most diverse and colorful countries in the world.

    Our most important product is caring with the comforts like home from folks that you would call friends at home, because we are from home.

    If you’re going to get to India, be sure to make Bombay (Mumbai) a stop over. We’d be delighted to show you around.

    Very best regards,

    Don Wood, Director

  9. HealthBlog by Bill Crounse, MD, a new (at least to me) health care IT blog to follow. Dr. Crounse is the Worldwide Health Director for Microsoft.

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