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Medical tourism: A New Addition to CHRISTUS Health's Global Ministry

Destination Spotlight

In 1999, the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word of Houston and the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word of San Antonio brought their health care ministries together to form CHRISTUS Health. By doing so, they created a unique purpose in the modern health care market — to take better care of people by extending the healing ministry of Jesus Christ. This remains the mission of CHRISTUS Health today, after almost 10 years of growth and expansion to become an international health care system.

In the year 2000, CHRISTUS Health received a call from the Muguerza health system in Mexico. Because of the growing Hispanic population in the U.S., the increasing need for nurses from nursing schools in Mexico and the proximity of several of our markets to the U.S./Mexico border, we felt there were compelling reasons to enter into sincere conversations with the owners of the Muguerza hospitals to explore this opportunity.

As a result of our due diligence, which clearly demonstrated significantly high quality of both clinical and service delivery in their two facilities in Mexico, we consummated the partnership in April of 2001 and created what has now become the rapidly growing seven-hospital CHRISTUS Muguerza health system in Mexico, which also has a quickly expanding ambulatory component.

Our Journey to Excellence was rapidly embraced by the leaders in Mexico, who shared our strong commitment to prove the excellence in their health system by being transparent in well-defined metrics. That commitment to excellence was not only proven by their data, but was so significant that it generated a CHRISTUS Muguerza brand that is so strong that other facility leaders are now wanting to join our ranks.

As we reflected on CHRISTUS Muguerza’s high quality (for example, we are the leading cardiac care center in all of South America and operate the first hospital in Mexico to earn JCI accreditation), it became clear to us that we should not limit this quality to just people in Mexico, but should open our doors to people in other countries who were on long waiting lists for elective surgery or who did not have the financial wherewithal to have their procedures done at the costs that would be required in their home locations.

Consequently, we knew that we needed to develop a well-thought out and excellent Medical TravelSM program. This was also substantiated by our data, which indicates that many Americans from border states are already coming to our facilities in Mexico, and that the 4,000 Medicare-eligible patients are often paying for their care in our facilities. Why? Again, because the CHRISTUS brand is strong, denotes our Journey to Excellence, and produces measurable outcomes in both quality and service delivery.

We feel strongly that our services have an advantage because of the close proximity of many of our facilities to the U.S./Mexico border, our Associates’ fluency in English and other languages, and our ability to provide appropriate recovery locations such as upscale hotels and retreat centers.

In addition, a Medical TravelSM program allows for more collaboration both ways across the border. For instance, if we have a pediatric patient at a CHRISTUS Muguerza facility in Monterrey, Mexico who needs specialty care, we have the ability to refer them to our CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital in San Antonio, Texas.

I should also point out that although some other medical travel programs may driven by financial gain, our desire to create a Medical TravelSM program was driven by our high quality and interest in community value. Obviously we are expecting to see financial benefits from this program, but our margins will be of great use as we continue to provide charity benefits to the communities we serve in the U.S. and in Mexico. We are the number one Catholic provider of community benefit, and see this function as central to our mission.

In fact, the CHRISTUS Muguerza system has opened five Adelaida Lafón clinics so far in mainly rural areas to provide health care and other services to residents who would otherwise have little access to it. These clinics were opened in collaboration with local government leaders and health care providers, and are located in desperately poor and underserved areas.

They provide high-quality medical care to those whose health is at risk due to social, cultural and economic conditions, and charge very small fees for their services. The services offered at the clinics varies by location, but includes basic health care services such as x-rays, ultrasounds, physical therapy, laboratory services, physician exams and chronic disease management – in addition to counseling and activities for older residents and mothers, and various community education programs.

In 2006, we announced that CHRISTUS Health’s portfolio would begin to shift to one-third acute care, one-third non-acute care and one-third international services in response to the trends we are seeing in health care today.  These include declining reimbursement in the U.S. under the control of both the federal and state governments and the rapid introduction of technology that will move a significant amount of health care from an inpatient setting to the non-acute arena (which includes care and services that do not require an inpatient acute care hospital stay).  We at CHRISTUS intend to expand and leverage our international experience in other places around the globe where we are called to extend the healing ministry of Jesus Christ.

Our answer to the growing popularity of medical travel is to continue to leverage the expertise of our existing international facilities. I am very proud of all of our Associates, including those at our CHRISTUS Muguerza facilities throughout Mexico who provide excellent, high-quality care to their patients every day—patients who entrust their lives to us! What an awesome responsibility we have as members of the global community who are blessed to be called into the health care field

Dr. Thomas Royer is chief executive officer and president of the CHRISTUS Health system.  Dr. Royer leads day-to-day operations for CHRISTUS Health and lends extensive expertise in developing physician partnerships and community health programs within CHRISTUS. In his nearly seven years with the organization, Dr. Royer has led CHRISTUS Health through a remarkable period of growth, making it one of the ten largest Catholic health systems in the country today.  For three years in a row, he has been named as one of the top 50 Most Powerful Physician Executives in Healthcare by Modern Physician Magazine.

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