Corporate medical tourism raises quality, lowers costs

In an effort to get their employees higher quality care at lower costs, some companies are partnering with healthcare providers who will accept fixed fees or bundled payments instead of traditional fees for services rendered, MedCity News reported.

To combat high healthcare bills, companies like Wal-Mart and Lowe's will send employees in need of knee or hip replacements to four hospitals in Baltimore, Seattle, Irvine, Calif., and Springfield, Mo., which agreed to a fixed fee for all the care, rather than open-ended fees for service, according to the article.

The companies cover the medical treatment and the trip, as well as expenses for a required caregiver, using medical tourism to send a message about what businesses want from healthcare providers, the article stated.

The cost savings are not immediate, according to Olivia Ross, senior manager with the Pacific Business Group on Health, the San Francisco-based nonprofit overseeing development of the Employers Centers of Excellence Network (ECEN). However, companies hope the move will lead to long-term savings through reductions in infections and complications, as well as help get employees back to work sooner. 

If other big businesses follow suit, it could create more competition among regional healthcare centers, which will drive up quality and reduce costs, according to the article. However, this could come at the expense of smaller community hospitals that would lose business to potential patients traveling out of town for procedures.

Neither company revealed how many employees took advantage of the program, but the ECEN attracted 500 calls and referred 80 potential patients to medical centers in the first three weeks of 2014, Ross said in the article.

Medical tourism is gaining ground, atlhough it's not growing as fast as some industry experts believe. A recent study found healthcare providers and others who have a financial interest in increasing medical tourism have promoted the concept even if it's not based on any data or hard evidence, according to researchers affiliated with the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Royal Holloway University and the University of Birmingham, FierceHealthcare previously reported. 

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