Explosive growth noted in medical tourism and retail clinics

Aug. 29, 2008
Trend toward medical tourism reinforces consumer desires to control health care costs.

More than 750,000 Americans left the country last year for less expensive medical treatments, a number projected to grow to six million by 2010, potentially costing the U.S. healthcare system billions. The number of retail clinics in operation has also soared by 220 percent from just 250 clinics in 2006 to more than 800 serving patients by the end of 2007.

Both trends suggest that these new innovations are challenging the status quo of the traditional U.S. healthcare system as consumers seek better care, and greater access at lower costs, according to research released by the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions. Deloitte's new analysis expands on its 2008 Survey of Health Care Consumers, which initially exposed several disruptive trends, including consumers' growing appetite for medical tourism, use of retail clinics, alternative therapies and tools and technology to self-navigate the healthcare system.

The study found that:

• Two in five respondents were interested in pursuing treatment abroad if quality was comparable and the savings were 50 percent or more.

• Sixteen percent of consumers have already used a walk-in clinic in a retail setting, and 34 percent said they might do so in the future.

• Consumers expressed interest in seeking care from alternative providers (38 percent), connecting with their doctors via e-mail (76 percent), accessing online medical records and test results (78 percent), as well as using self-monitoring devices at home (88 percent), if they were to develop a condition that required regular monitoring.

• The number of outbound medical tourists is projected to rise to 15.75 million in 2017, representing a potential $30.3 to $79.5 billion spent abroad by Americans. As a result, the potential lost revenue for U.S. healthcare providers could top $228.5 to $599.5 billion.

• Medical care in countries like India, Thailand and Singapore can cost as little as 10 percent of the cost of comparable U.S. care, often including airfare and a stay at a resort.

• The U.S. market for DM services is projected to reach $30 billion by 2013, providing convergence opportunities for retail pharmacies to add DM services to attract consumers to their stores for cross-selling opportunities, providing one-stop shopping for healthcare services.

Consumers are flocking to retail clinics not only for convenience, but also for the relative low price differences associated with visiting their PCPs for the same treatments. The cost of services provided by retail clinics range from $50 to $75, with the majority priced at $59, compared to a physician's office visit, which can cost from $55 to $250. Additionally, the cost for a retail clinic physical, at $25 to $49, can also result in savings compared to a physical at a physician's office that can cost anywhere from $50 to $200.

Source: Deloitte, July 30, 2008