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Messages for Empowering Medical Tourism


The story of Mexico’s nefarious conquistador, Hernán Cortés, who scuttled his crews’ ships to prevent a retreat to Cuba, has more in common with the 2011 Congress than one would think.

Illustrated in an anecdote by keynote speaker and best-selling author, Mitch Joel, the New World allusion pointed to a present-thinking attitude, a “get-on-board-or-get-left-behind” mindset that not only exemplified Joel’s presentation, but more broadly, illuminated the overarching theme of the conference – progress in motion.

Fortunately, no such mutiny of the pre-Columbian sort made its way into the peaceful, albeit busy assembly. Instead, keynote addresses by world renowned plastic surgeon Dr. Robert Rey, original “Apprentice” winner Bill Rancic, Google international director of benefits Jon Casey and American Medical Association president Dr. Cecil Wilson among others, uniquely highlighted strategies for success through areas such as service, entrepreneurship and social media as ways to build a better medical practice.

The insights, experiences and successes of these individuals provided business solutions and empowering, forward-thinking messages for the leaders of the medical tourism industry to consider as progress in the health-related travel market continues.

Dr. Robert ‘90210’ Rey – Building an International Surgical Practice

“You know as a surgeon, we see the human body as architecture,” said Dr. Robert Rey, who on his TV show “Dr. 90201,” which aired from 2004-2008, would candidly comment on the natural “aesthetics” of his clients. “If we had to draw an analogy to cars, no question this is a Maserati body,” he said to a patient about to undergo breast augmentation in a clip from his series.

Colloquially known as Dr. 90210, the Beverley Hills-based plastic and reconstructive surgeon brought this same candor and verve to his keynote with playful anecdotes and clips from his reality show.

Specializing in minimal scar plastic surgery, the once impecunious little boy who grew up in one of the favelas of São Paulo, Brazil now runs what E! Entertainment Television said is the best-known practice on Earth and has the most widely recognized doctor name in the history of medicine.

Aside from flashy suits and a flirty disposition, one of the strategies for success highlighted by the cosmetic engineer in his humanity-oriented message was a re-thinking of the doctor/ patient relationship.

“We lost the human touch in medicine,” said Dr. Rey, in his subtle accent, who in his second year of medical school witnessed a doctor that made an example of a cardiac cancer patient by loutishly tearing off her sheets in an unplanned demonstration for a room full of residents, students and interns. This experience was rather formative in his medical school career and made him realize how sterile medicine had become – “arrogance punctuates modern medicine.”

Dr. Rey pointed out that in what has become a “reductionary” industry – where “it’s just a part, just a boob, a butt, a belly” – another crucial key to success is to treat your patients the way you want to be treated. “I have 33,000 daughters,” he said, intimating that the doctor/patient relationship doesn’t end in the operating room. In fact, he has attended the weddings and graduations of many of his patients.

This more intimate doctor/patient approach is part of why Dr. Rey says the “one hundred-thousand-dollar-day” (after expenses) has become a norm at his practice. But this doesn’t mean he sees every patient that walks through the door. Actually, he claims to have the highest rejection rate on Earth.

A final element Dr. Rey attributed to his success falls under a philosophy of what he calls service to humanity. But he has an unconventional approach. While he does advocate attracting patients by obtaining the high quality standards of American accreditation and certification, he also highlights the importance of having a “designer surgeon” – surgeons of international fame, whom he pegs are also always the ones draped in the latest high fashion brands.

“Please don’t get some scary guy – nobody’s coming,” he said without reservation. Instead, the so-called couture practitioners should be a magnet for patients but should also be giving back to the community gratuity-free at least once a week he said.

While there are many pillars to achieving a successful practice, Dr. Rey’s people-first approach has proven to be one working strategy. The pinstriped suit, aggressive-flirt approach on the other hand is a signature method, which does go to show that if you stand out – you won’t go unnoticed.

Bill Rancic – Adaptability to Achieve Success in Today’s Health Care & Economic Climate

In the spring of 2004, two words changed the life of American entrepreneur Bill Rancic forever: “You’re hired.”

As the winner of NBC’s first season of “The Apprentice,” Rancic signed a one-year contract to become the right –hand man of business mogul Donald Trump, beating out more than 250,000 applicants. While this was a pivotal point in the business career of the now New York Times best-selling author and Chicago real estate developer, there were some impertinent bumps along the way.

In the hour-long narrative that characterized his speech, Rancic took us all the way back to when he first discovered his “entrepreneurial spirit” – which surprisingly began with flapjack peddling to senior citizens at a very young age.

“My mom claims that she knew I was going to win ‘The Apprentice’ when I was 10 years old,” said Rancic during his speech to a full audience.

In his presentation, Rancic mentioned that one of his early brushes with success, pre-Apprentice, came from a “cigar of the month club” business he ran out of a 400-square-foot studio apartment. After pooling together a meager $24,000 with a buddy to start the business, he quit his job selling commodity medals with little encouragement to go forward from his former bosses.

However discouraging, Rancic said the words of neglect gave him fuel and motivation, which helped him eventually come up with creative solutions. “I knew a box would always get opened before an envelope,” thought Rancic as he arranged 10 packages to send to local radio stations with a product description, a few cigars and a note taped to the bridge of a pair of costume nose glasses that read – ‘please take a closer look at my business idea.’

Thinking “inside” the box was a strategy that landed him a coveted spot on a top morning radio show in Chicago where his allotted 5 minutes turned into 35. A similar approach garnered a few television appearances as well. While the business became a hit, changing times eventually necessitated new strategies and by adjusting the way he approached customers with his product, Rancic was able to stay in business.

Creativity, agility and the ability to take risks, all core factors to a successful entrepreneurial formula according to Rancic – made the inescapably bumpy road of entrepreneurship less choppy for him, though he noted there were still some potholes along the way.

As the producer and star in shows such as A&E’s “We Mean Business” and the Style Network’s reality series “Giuliana and Bill,” Rancic has been able to branch out as an entrepreneur, yet his own core principles have remained unchanged.

The thing that Rancic has to show from his experiences from cigar-selling to real estate to the “Apprentice” is a basic belief that is also unchanging: “Tough times don’t last, but tough people do.”

Mitch Joel – ‘Six Pixels of Separation’: How Marketing Connects in a Connected World

When he was barely two years old, Mitch Joel’s son stood in front of the family’s 50-inch television screen swatting one hand at the air, asserting that the screen was broken (he was mimicking the gestures for playing “Angry Birds”).

We know that most equipment doesn’t quite work like that, but with the advent of devices such as the iPad, the way we interact with technology has changed dramatically.

“It was a very powerful moment for me because I realized that as my son grows up, he will never know what a mouse or a keyboard is – he’ll never have that. A screen that isn’t completely interactive will probably be broken to him,” said Joel, who is president of the award-winning marketing and communications agency Twist Image, and who as we’ve seen, has a certain propensity for implicative anecdotes.

From a marketing perspective, since technology has transformed along with the people using it, Joel stressed that in this day and age it’s imperative to re-think how we’re marketing and communicating as businesses. “This is the first time in the history of business where consumers are actually further ahead when it comes to connectivity, technology and understanding marketing,” said Joel, pacing across the stage.

In his first book, the business and marketing best-seller, “Six Pixels of Separation,” Joel offered insight into the world of new media and provided an instructive look at new strategies for success in digital marketing, social media, personal branding and entrepreneurship to help businesses better capitalize on its global audience and consumer base.

“What I really want businesses to do is to reboot,” said Joel, who is also vice chair and a board member of the Canadian Marketing Association and an executive for the National Advertising Benevolent Society of Quebec.

What this involves is having a digital-first posture though – “real interaction with the brand is happening at the search box.”

He stressed that businesses, hospitals and clinical practices alike must recognize that in this digital realm of media marketing (where publishing and branding yourself can be done mostly for free), it’s not about how many people you put your message in front of, it’s about who. Even more important is being actively connected – knowing what people are saying via blogs, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, etc. Given that consumers are hyper-connected, they’re also highly untethered said Joel, so they don’t need to go directly to the business anymore, now, it’s the other way around.

Rounding out his speech with six points separation – the things businesses need to do to start “moving the needle forward” – Joel said that he likes to say everything is with not instead of. “I’m not going to say kill everything you’re doing and start over. What I’m saying is you have this new opportunity – bring it in, embrace it and start working it in and figure out what the mix looks like for you.”

Although advancements such as social media have been around for a while, it’s still difficult for some businesses to understand how they’ll fully integrate. And when Joel said that his son would never even know what a mouse or keyboard is, for the skeptics, he warned: “That’s your problem, not the next generation’s problem.”

Dr. Cecil Wilson – The Future of Health Care and Health Care Reform in America

Health care reform has remained an important and often inflammatory discussion in the U.S. health care industry since President Obama inaugurated the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – mostly referred to as the Affordable Care Act (ACA). While it has served as a point of contention for legislators and health care professionals alike, its polemical nature aside, the fact is that there are some major changes coming to the health care industry.

Dr. Cecil Wilson, president of the American Medical Association (AMA) used his keynote to discuss the implications of some of the soon-to-come adjustments from the reform and provided a serious dialogue on the future of health care in the U.S.

“There’s been time to take in what it does, what it doesn’t do. Whether you liked it or did not like it, it is a fact of life; but that does not mean that physicians, other stakeholders, all of us would have no say in what’s shaping the future of reform,” said Dr. Wilson who has been in private practice of internal medicine in central Florida for more than 30 years.

Part of the reform act is to provide coverage for the now more than 50 million uninsured Americans and to try and get a handle of the “spiraling rate of growth of health care costs in this country,” said Dr. Wilson. He noted that in a recent survey done by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that only 47 percent of Americans understood how the ACA affected them.

While the ACA provides advantages for consumers such as eliminating denials of treatments for pre-existing conditions and placing an emphasis on prevention and wellness as a way to help patients avoid chronic conditions associated with higher costs, one particularly controversial segment of the bill has been the constitutionality of the individual responsibility clause, which mandates that everyone, if they can afford it, to maintain some form of health insurance.

Dr. Wilson cited that the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that removing this article from the ACA would actually add an additional $250 billion to the budget through the year 2020. The AMA does have a long-standing policy of supporting individual responsibility since just providing coverage for people that are ill said Dr. Wilson, “would be a little like allowing people to buy insurance on their homes until the house is burning.”

Dr. Wilson noted that that AMA has recognized areas where it thinks the ACA did not address adequately or did address and should have left alone. One of the major concerns in this arena was that the new law fails to fix the Medicare Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula that pays physicians for providing treatment services to Medicare patients.

“Because of that formula, physicians on an annual basis over the past 10 years have been threatened with cuts and payments and during 2010 were threatened with cuts on five separate occasions,” said Dr. Wilson, who mentioned that this year physicians face a 29.5 percent cut.

The AMA is currently working with Congress to develop payment improvements for the long term and this spring the organization sent a letter to Washington outlining a three-prong approach to fixing Medicare payment problems.

In all, Dr. Wilson brought to light the heavy involvement of the AMA in the continuing process of health care reform. So far, the role that the group has played in influencing public policy has been crucial and looks to making a better, sustainable health care system for the future.

Jon Casey – Creating the Happiest and Healthiest Employee on the Planet

Google director of international benefits, Jon Casey, who was the youngest keynote speaker in the bunch, addressed the development and execution of Google’s global benefits strategy and provided some insight as to what businesses can do to create not only the healthiest, but the happiest, employee.

“What we’re trying to do is introduce and change a culture of wellness and health into Google and the good news is our employees already view benefits as part of the culture,” said Casey.

Only 12-months old, the Optimize Your Life (OYL) wellness initiative at Google is a chief strategy that addresses the physical, emotional, financial and social pillars of its employees through various programs.

“Make them aware of their health, educate them on their health and ultimately manage their behavior and get them to own their health,” is one objective behind the OYL approach said Casey.

As part of the benefits culture, Google provides free food including breakfast, lunch and dinner on site. Since nutrition is another element to making employees healthy, Google successfully found one way to encourage better eating habits by moving “bad” foods to the bottom of their food stands, hoping that eye contact would play a role in food choices.

Along with labeling foods with colors red, amber and green to indicate how healthy food is, as well as culinary classes that show employees how to make healthy meals, the company has placed an emphasis on making smarter eating decisions.

On the emotional side, which Casey said is the most challenging; stress management has become a main focus. With such a fast-paced environment, training employees to foster a better sense of emotional resilience, “gives them the skillset and the education so when they face a stressful situation, they can just cope with it better. The pain threshold for stress becomes higher and they become more proactive and are going to be around longer,” he said.

The comprehensive approach to employee health at Google is still developing, said Casey. “We don’t know everything.” But the commitment to building a workplace atmosphere where these factors are integrated into the culture gives Google a great opportunity to leverage that and push it farther.

Where do We Go from Here?

The keynote speakers, with their diverse and varied backgrounds, together covered many areas that the medical tourism and health industry also focuses on from entrepreneurship, employee wellness, marketing and governmental policy.

While everybody has their own individual approach to climbing to the ladder of success, the insights these speakers offered in their areas of expertise are a just a few of many strategies that medical tourism can look to in the coming years. With preparation for the 2012 Congress already underway, the progress in motion mindset stays strong and ensures that the only way to go is up – there’s no looking down the ladder.

About the Authors:

Renée-Marie Stephano is the President of the Medical Tourism Association™. Ms. Stephano is also the Editor-in-Chief of the Medical Tourism Magazine, Health Tourism Magazine and Healthcare Development Magazine. Having a background in international marketing and relations, health law and litigation, she provides a valuable service to the Medical Tourism Association™ in these fields. She may be reached at

Brandon Samuels is a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and is a contributor to the editorial staff for the Medical Tourism AssociationTM. Developing an early interest in health, Brandon completed a four-year Medical Magnet Careers program, which led to experience working in areas of nursing, radiology and dermatology.

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