One day a few weeks ago, a flight from the Middle East arrived in Houston. An ambulance met the plane on the tarmac and whisked a trauma patient to the emergency room of Memorial Hermann Hospital in the city’s famed Texas Medical Center. After a neurological evaluation, the patient was wheeled into the operating room, where surgery took place that same day. As of this writing, the patient is in The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research, a part of the Memorial Hermann system, participating in post-operative rehabilitation.
For decades, patients have come from around the world for specialized treatment at the Texas Medical Center. Each day, the Center welcomes international patients who arrive for initial diagnosis, treatment for a disease or disorder, a valued second opinion or an annual checkup. More than 14,600 international patients came to the Center in 2008, and that number is on track to increase nearly 20 percent in 2009.
Most are drawn by the state-of-the-art medical technology for which the United States and the Center, in particular, are known. Many come for the pioneering treatments not available anywhere else. Others come because the wait for care in their home country is too long. While, some come simply because they can afford the best of the best and they know they can find it here.
While the Texas Medical Center may be a location of choice for advanced medical treatment, creating a successful inbound medical tourism program takes more than world-class technology. For Memorial Hermann, a three-year, dedicated effort is showing results in both increased numbers of inbound patients and high levels of patient satisfaction. Along the way, we have identified five essentials for success.
The number one key to our success is a totally patient-centered concierge approach. When I came on board in 2006, I came from an international banking background. We have brought the same atmosphere of professionalism and service found in VIP banking to the way we care for our international patients and families.
Our International Services team assists patients from pre-arrival to post-discharge. Before a patient even arrives in the United States, our team has smoothed the pre-registration process by accessing medical records for the patient, assisting with financial clearance, helping coordinate travel arrangements and setting initial appointments.
While most patients do not require an ambulance at the airport, our personal liaisons coordinate their arrival through the airport system’s personal representatives, helping them navigate immigration and customs, get to their hotel and arrange transportation for the duration of their stay.
International Services team members speak a variety of languages, providing a unique multicultural resource. In addition, we often bring in interpreters to assist the family throughout their stay.
Our staff arranges for VIP accommodations at the hospital and sets appointments for evaluations, physician consultations and treatment within a prompt time frame so the patient and family may return to their country of origin as quickly as possible. We also coordinate care among various specialists to ensure clear communication.
Patient-centered care goes beyond simple logistics. Our experienced physicians and staff are dedicated to providing comprehensive care, including looking out for the religious and cultural needs of international patients and assisting with personal and family issues arising during their stay. This requires a concierge medical service approach with a staff focused on the patient 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Complementing a patient-centered approach, the second key is a reputation for high quality health care. While the Texas Medical Center is well known, we have worked to build awareness of the Memorial Hermann Healthcare System. Recent recognitions include the 2009 National Quality Healthcare Award, as well as top-tier ratings for our programs in publications as US News & World Report. These acknowledgments attest to our success in this area.
Our reputation brings international patients, who search for care as varied as cardiology and cardiovascular treatment, cancer treatment, sports medicine, neuroscience, liver and kidney transplants, burn treatment and plastic surgery.
A third element of our success is the long-term relationships we have developed with institutions and organizations abroad. Because the Texas Medical Center is the largest medical center in the world, with a large contingent of international doctors and staff, it is only natural that they would recommend the Center to patients from their local countries.
We have taken this a step further, signing formal affiliation agreements for educational exchange and patient referrals with institutions in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Venezuela, Spain, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, China and Japan.
Through these affiliations, we provide an observer exchange program customized to meet the specific needs of international health professionals. They come to Memorial Hermann to gain knowledge of U.S. medical technology, and return home more aware of the services we can offer.
In turn, our physicians visit these countries, giving presentations to the local medical and business communities. During such trips, our doctors often conduct grand rounds, a traditional teaching tool where a specific medical case is presented for discussion among doctors, residents, and medical students.
We have learned that one key to exceptional service is establishing strong relationships with organizations and services that can make our patients’ lives easier while they are traveling and staying in Houston. Our strategic partnerships include hotels, transportation services, the local airport and airport system, the Houston convention and visitor’s bureau.
We have also found that it is vital to establish relationships with embassies, consulates and chambers of commerce. These entities can not only help smooth the way for patients, but also spread the word about the level of service we provide.
The last and a critical key to our success is the strong working bond we have created between our International Services staff and the physicians, clinical staff and administrators at Memorial Hermann. This enables our team to work seamlessly to coordinate multiple tests and procedures and ensure that cultural and dietary needs are being addressed, whether it means arranging a gluten-free diet or scheduling appointments around religious observances.
Measures of Success
It all comes back to the patient-centered focus that is the heart of our international program. To provide exceptional service, our team gets to know our patients as individuals, understanding their concerns, their needs and the things that will make their stay more comfortable.
The success of our approach is reflected in the notes we receive from patients and families after they leave our care. Such notes include: “I was amazed to be greeted at the airport gate and escorted through arrival” and “The team was always there for us”.
For our team, knowing that we have contributed to the healing process is the ultimate measure of success.
Rosanna Moreno is the System Executive for International Business Development for the Memorial Hermann Healthcare System and Executive Director of the International Services Center at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center. She also chairs the International Affairs Advisory Council of the Texas Medical Center. Moreno is a Texas licensed attorney and has a master’s degree in International Relations with a concentration in Economics and Latin America.