Medical Tourism: Not Ready For Prime Time?

Nov 7, 2017

Expert panel discusses the pros and cons of Medical Tourism for Hawai'i
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

The first-ever Pacific Regenerative Medical Conference in Honolulu conducted a panel discussion today to explore ways to attract visitors to the islands for healing and medical cures. HPR’s Wayne Yoshioka reports. 

Medical Tourism, making Hawai’i the destination of choice for patients seeking non-emergency health care services, has long-time support from the visitor industry.  Hawai’i Tourism Authority Board of Directors chair, Rick Fried.

“I think we will appeal to tourists from China, Japan and other places in Asia.  It’ll be, we believe, a high-end tourist that will come here and go to high-end places so I don’t think we’ll be competing with some of the less expensive options that are available in places like Thailand and India.  We generally think on the tourism board that it’s a great opportunity for Hawaii.”

Dr. Ira Zunin is a physician and CEO of a consulting firm focused on re-imagining healthcare services for the 21st century.

“We don’t want to compete, head-to-head, with Mayo Clinic, M.D. Anderson, Memorial Sloane Kettering, with Cleveland Clinic, because to be really world class in a medical setting you need 3 or 4 million people.  We don’t have enough of all the sub-specialists.  So what we have to do is we have to leverage the spirit of Aloha, the beautiful environment, the clean air, the sand and surf and the host culture.”

David Watumull, CEO of Cardax, an anti-inflammatory supplement and drug company, says Hawai’i already has a brand.

“We need to create our own unique experience here in Hawai’i.  If we focus on something that is, I think, one of the key interests of people around the world today and that is aging, wellness and health.  Not just a specific cardiovascular disease or cancer or other major disease but health, wellness,longevity and aging.”

But, Kim Ku’ulei Birnie, communications director of Papa ‘Ola Lokahi, an organization she calls the Native Hawaiian Board of Health, asked how medical tourism will address the health disparities of the indigenous Kanaka Maoli.

“The data shows that the more Hawaiian you are, the sicker you are and the sooner you’re going to die.  And, in fact, the life span is approximately 12 years less than the average resident of Hawai’i.  And so for all of the specialists that are serving people that are not from here, what percentage of their practice will address those who are from here.”

Moderator Morgan Pile …a medical tourism consultant …summarized that Hawai’i has a long way to go before it can sell medical tourism …

“If you’re going to be marketing this all over the world, shouldn’t you be taking care of your people with the same medicine you’re trying to sell all over the world?  So starting with the locals is step one; building the menu and once you have the menu, go out and sell the menu.

But, State Senator Josh Green, who was the conference key note speaker and an emergency room doctor in West Hawai’i, says medical tourism must be balanced.

“I we could help individuals who are destitute, who are suffering, who are on Medicaid and the state’s paying hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.  If we could help these people along with the very wealthy who are obviously going to avail themselves of these groundbreaking cures, it’s really good.   So everybody benefits.”

According to the Medical Tourism Association…the 100 billion dollar world-wide industry includes11 million tourists who travel for medical treatment each year.   Wayne Yoshioka, HPR News.