Hospitals angle for lucrative foreign-born patients

Hospitals are increasingly competing for one of the most lucrative healthcare demographics: high-income, foreign-born patients with quality insurance coverage or the cash to pay out of pocket, the Associated Press reports.

To attract such patients, hospitals are pulling out all the stops. such as redecorating rooms, adding foreign-language TV channels and changing the color of paperwork in keeping with cultural preferences. Houston's Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital, for example, gives immigrant patients access to dishes similar to the food prepared in their home countries, such as dumplings, noodles or curry, according to the AP.

Facilities like Memorial Hermann "are recognizing that they have to begin to gear their services and products toward more minority populations," Rick DeFilippi, chairman of the board for the Institute for Diversity in Health Management, a subsidiary of the American Hospital Association (AHA), told the AP.

Tailoring hospital settings to immigrant and minority demographics began years ago in inner-city facilities, the article states, but now it's essential to help private hospitals maintain their finances. Chinese, Vietnamese and Indian immigrants all earn median household incomes above the $51,300 national average, more than double in the case of Indians.

Memorial Hermann began its outreach initiative in 2009, seeking to ease language barriers for Chinese and Vietnamese patients. The program's results were encouraging enough to expand it to South Asian patients from countries like India and Pakistan; the hospital added several types of curry to its menu, along with permitting "the kind of large family gatherings many U.S. hospitals frown on."

Similarly, California's El Camino Hospital has developed a "South Asian Heart Center" and a "Chinese Health Initiative," both of which aim to tailor preventive medicine to health problems more likely to affect those groups, such as hepatitis B or high blood pressure, according to the article.

These initiatives tie in with AHA goals for 2020, including hospital-wide cultural sensitivity training throughout the country, collecting data on illness and ethnicity, and making sure provider boards and administrations reflect their communities' diversity, according to the article.

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