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increase in medical tourism

More U.S. patients have begun to travel abroad or visit retail clinics for medical services, practices that could reduce expenses for consumers and health insurers but also could cost physicians and hospitals billions of dollars in revenue annually, the AP/San Francisco Chronicle reports. According to a report recently released by the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, the number of U.S. patients who travel abroad for medical procedures — such as cosmetic or joint surgeries or knee or hip replacements — could increase by about 10 times over the next 10 years to nearly 16 million. About 750,000 patients traveled abroad for medical procedures in 2007, and an estimated 1.5 million patients will travel abroad for services in 2008, the report found.

Nations such as Brazil, Mexico, Singapore and Thailand have become “hubs for medical tourism” as medical procedures performed in those nations can cost less than half as much as the cost in the U.S., “even when including outlays for airfare, hotels and meals abroad,” the AP/Chronicle reports. Many of those nations market their medical tourism programs and have modern hospitals with physicians trained in the U.S., according to Paul Keckley, executive director of Deloitte. At least one BlueCross and BlueShield Association plan has begun to promote medical tourism, and some U.S. teaching hospitals have begun efforts to match costs for medical procedures performed abroad to retain patients in response to the trend, Keckley said.

Retail Clinics
Deloitte also recently released a report that found the number of retail clinics has increased from about 200 in 2006 to about 1,000 in July. According to the report, Wal-Mart Stores recently established agreements with RediClinic and several hospital systems to partner in opening about 400 retail clinics by 2010, and CVS Caremark and Walgreen in the past two years have acquired clinic operators and plan to open more clinics in the future. Keckley said, “Significant numbers of people are willing to vote with their feet to try something different, whether it’s retail clinics or medical tourism,” adding, “U.S. providers are having to pay attention”.

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