US hospital looks to China for more medical tourists

Updated: 2014-12-05 14:27

By Zheng Xin in Beijing(China Daily USA)

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Ten years ago, Children's Hospital Los Angeles received its first patient from the Chinese mainland, with that child patient who had traveled thousands of miles seeking more advanced medical treatment, gaining celebrity status of sorts. Today, such travel is commonplace.

"It was not a common practice for Chinese patients back then, as the cost of medical treatment was beyond the capacity of most of them," said Richard D. Cordova, president and chief executive officer of Children's Hospital Los Angeles, one of the top five children's hospitals in the United States.

As the middle class in China has rapidly expanded and its purchasing power has greatly surged, many sectors overseas, including hospitals, have turned an eye to that burgeoning middle class. Children's Hospital Los Angeles is one such hospital.

Since that first patient from the Chinese mainland landed at the hospital a decade ago, the hospital has steadily seen an increase in the number of patients from China, and believes that growth will continue at a rapid rate among, the growth driven by the emerging middle class more focused than ever on health and well-being.

"It will be no more a rare and unusual practice for Chinese to seek medical advice and treatment from abroad in the future," said Cordova.

From 2011 to 2013, the hospital received some 44 patients from the Chinese mainland, and 18 of them in 2014, from among a total of 84 international patients.

"The Chinese patients occupy some 20 percent of the overseas patients we received this year, which accounts for a significant proportion," he said.

The hospital expects the growth rate of the Chinese patients to reach 20 percent in the following year.

"Children's Hospital Los Angeles is trying to provide better care for more patients at a lower cost, while remaining true to our mission of creating hope and building healthier futures for infants, children and young adults," said Cordova, in an interview with China Daily.

The hospital has formed a cooperative alliance with several local Chinese hospitals, under which the Chinese hospitals will under certain circumstances recommend patients for treatment abroad.

"We are looking for strategic partnerships that will ensure our future, while revising care models to help patients maintain their health more efficiently," said Cordova.

Last year, the hospital opened outpatient centers in South Bay and Santa Monica, adding to their existing satellite locations in Arcadia and Valencia, to meet the increasing demand from overseas patients.

As part of a 12-day visit to China, South Korea and Japan earlier this month, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti signed a memorandum of understanding in Guangzhou to attract more Chinese medical tourists to the Western United States, by promoting tourism and investment in his city.

Nine Chinese and US signatories, including China Southern Airlines; the City of Los Angeles; the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board; the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation; Cedar Sinai Medical Center; City of Hope Hospital; Children's Hospital Los Angeles; UCLA, and USC, have agreed to promote health tourism from China to Los Angeles.

According to the Los Angeles mayor's office, trade last year between Los Angeles and China reached $164.38 billion, compared to Japan at $43.5 billion, and South Korea at $23.5 billion.

Some 570,000 Chinese tourists visited Los Angeles and spent $655 million, according tothe mayor's office.

Children's Hospital Los Angeles said it is also seeking partnerships with local insurance companies in China, including People's Insurance Company of China and Ping An Insurance, to see if there's interest in providing high-end medical insurance.

The departments of orthopedics, ophthalmology, hematology and tumor, for which the hospital is most highly regarded nationwide, receives the most young Chinese patients.

"While many of the patients are recommended through local Chinese hospitals, a lot of them heard of our hospitals through their friends in China," said Larry Wang, associate director of the Center for Global Health with the hospital.

To better cater to the demands of the Chinese patients and minimize language barriers or cultural shock, the hospital has established an on-site translation team made up of 25 round-the-clock translators proficient in 42 languages, including Chinese. It is also working on a Chinese-language website to attract more Chinese patients.

"We need to make sure the patients are comfortable while seeing doctors in a foreign land, together with the finest medical facilities and services," said Cordova. "Many patients travel across the continent to us for medical care of better quality and more considerate service. The medicine and pharmaceutical therapy in the hospital also promise the patients a pleasant body care."

Cordova added that more advanced medicine, medical apparatus and instruments in the United States are reasons given for more overseas patients.

Considering the lack of a medical visa for Chinese individuals who want to travel to the United States for medical treatment, the hospital maintains it will use its good relationship with the U.S. government to make sure Chinese patients coming to their hospital receive tourist visas without too many barriers.

"It is also our obligation to make sure the Chinese patients get here and get back home safely within the permitted stay, issued under the doctor's judgment," said Wang.

"Most people used to come to Los Angeles to visit the amusement parks and the beautiful beaches, but now they can also travel two miles from Hollywood to Los Angeles Children's Hospital for a better body treatment," said Cordova.

"We want to encourage more people from China to visit our city, not just as tourists to go to places like Disneyland," said Garcetti, in Guangzhou. "We have the finest hospitals in the world and we want to promote health travel, which can help with the health sector here in China," he said.