Overseas patients targeted
(So Fla Business Journal; 06/05/98)
Miami's latest solicitation for more foreign medical patients has sparked
new proposals for diverting Latin American tourists and business travelers
throughout South Florida hospitals.
Amid the regional push to match Texas' stature as a hub of international
medicine, dozens of foreign entrepreneurs with or without health-care
backgrounds have stepped forward as middle men offering to refer patients from
their home countries.
At the same time, some members of South Florida's health-care industry have
begun looking at the state's international airways for potential patients.
Among the plans is health insurance kiosks at international airports.
"I never dreamed there were so many different ways to ... bring more medical
business into South Florida," said Jay Malina, co-chair of Miami-Dade's
economic revitalization initiative, One Community One Goal.
In December, the organization estimated Latin America's health-care market
at $6 billion. To capture more of that figure, the project's leaders suggested
forming an international marketing alliance composed of nine Miami hospitals.
Two previous attempts at uniting South Florida hospitals under an international
marketing coalition fizzled more than a decade ago, partly because of
competition among hospitals.
Just as Miami's health-care industry is awakening to the benefit of overseas
referrals, so are individual hospitals as far north as Atlantis, where JFK
Medical Center began developing a international program months before Malina's
project was unveiled.
Hospital spokeswoman Sharon Reuben said JFK is trying to build on its
physicians' ties to the Dominican Republic and some French Canadian
communities. The key, she said, is developing more personal relationships
"We're always looking for opportunities to enter new markets," Reuben said.
So are foreign-based representatives or consultants who want to broker
patients. Malina said about 25 have offered him their services.
"The modus operandi is usually somebody who claims to be an expert in one or
more market segments of one or more countries," he said.
The profession of foreign patient brokering is not new to South Florida. But
Reinaldo Gonzalez, director of international business development at Mercy
Health Systems in Coconut Grove, said more people than ever before are offering
their services. Some ask for a cash advance to get started, he said.
'How can I get into this?'
"People are hearing about international health care and they're looking at
this alliance," he said. "I think it's spurring a lot of creativity in people's
minds: How can I get into this?"
Not all the newcomers are positioning themselves strictly as middlemen. For
example, Kendall internist Dr. Michael Gregorian said he recently began
exploring what he and others hope will become a new class of patients: airline
passengers who become ill while visiting Florida on business or pleasure.
Gregorian said he has contacted four airlines about hiring his proposed
statewide network of physicians to refer or provide medical treatment to any
passengers who become ill while visiting Florida.
Negotiations are preliminary, but Gregorian said that he and other doctors
within his International Travelers Assistance Systems would be on hand to help
arrange air ambulances and connecting flights during medical emergencies. He
said his qualifications include fluency in six languages and a year's
experience as physician to Pan Am employees.
"It's partially a referral service, but it's more than that," Gregorian
said. "We can do everything, basically." Prearranged medical procedures are not
part of the plan.
Airports also could become an important source of foreign patient referrals
under a state law set to take effect Oct. 1. It will allow Florida companies to
sell insurance to non-U.S. citizens at the state's international airports.
Amedex seeks airport kiosks
The law is of particular interest to Miami's Amedex Insurance Group, which
says it insures and arranges medical treatment primarily in Florida for 1
million wealthy Latin Americans.
John Carlson, president of Amedex's international services division, said
the company is currently negotiating for kiosk space at the state's
international airports. He said the company is also speaking to the new
hospital alliance about distributing brochures at the proposed kiosks.
"We want Florida to be known as the medical capital of the Americas,"