St. George claims its rightful place on the medical tourism map

Stock, image, St. George News

CONTRIBUTED CONTENT — St. George, Utah, is quickly making its mark on the medical tourism map, thanks in large part to St. George Surgical Center.

The rapidly growing Southern Utah community is now home to door-busting prices for robotic-assisted knee replacement surgery packages priced at $14,990, including the implant, surgeon, anesthesia and facility fee.

St. George also boasts some of the most advanced eye surgery technology at prices 90% less than list prices in New York’s pricey Park Avenue ophthalmology centers, as well as high-quality dental implants and very low prices by second generation dentist families and anterior approach hip replacements for Canadians tired of waiting years for treatment, with packages priced under $20,000.

St. George Surgical Center has been climbing its way to the top of the transparent bundled price surgery movement for the past five years. What started out with a handful of cosmetic surgery procedures for cash pay patients has turned into an innovative and lucrative business opportunity.

The groups who benefit from what’s happening in St. George include local residents; the ambulatory (same day/outpatient) surgery center; its physician owners; a handful of independent, non-Intermountain Healthcare physicians with the freedom to be innovative and participate in bundled price surgery services; and St. George’s growing tourism industry.

The economic impact of medical tourism in St. George.

Visitors to Southern Utah who plan surgery in St. George spend as much as $12,000 per person, per trip, and medical tourism supports more than 1,000 of the Washington County workforce with hotel, ASC and clinics, ground transportation, food and beverage, airport and airline, pharmacy, physical therapy, nursing and other related employment.

Promotional poster for St. George Surgical Center | Image courtesy of St. George Surgical Center, St. George News | Click to enlarge

Employers and insurers are embracing the opportunity to save hard dollars on health benefits

Unlike many cash pay programs in the U.S., which won’t allow employers to take advantage of these extremely discounted prices, for those that contract directly with St. George Surgical Center and send injured employees and dependents to St. George with full payment for their surgery and travel and accommodation for two people, they can save more than $100,000 with only six surgeries in a year. And they don’t need to leave the country.

Many of these patients have never discovered the magnificent red rocks and lava flows that surround St. George, not to mention the proximity of the five national parks and state parks that are within a short drive.

When self-funded employers contract with St. George Surgical Center, they save so much money on the surgery that they often waive copayments and deductibles and pay 100% of related travel expenses. That includes expenses for accommodation and meals and ground transportation while in St. George. And as a for-profit health care provider, St. George Surgical Center pays taxes on revenues, adding to the Washington County household tax relief for local residents.

Currently, St. George Surgical Center maintains two 4-inch binders of contracts with self-insured employers and third-party administrators who fly their plan participants to nearby Las Vegas – 90 minutes south by car or shuttle – or directly into St. George Regional Airport, touching down just a 20-minute drive from the facility.

With the expansion of its new NAVIO robotic-assisted knee replacement surgery and certification of two top-notch, board-certified fellowship trained orthopedic surgeons, St. George Surgical Center is the first and only NAVIO-equipped health facility from Phoenix, Arizona, to the Idaho border.

NAVIO robot, location and date unspecified | Photo courtesy of Smith + Nephew, St. George News

NAVIO robotic-assisted knee replacement affords the surgeon increased precision in making the cuts into the bone for better, tighter knee implant installation – the kind of precision, measured in millimeters, that one cannot achieve with the surgeon’s natural wrist movement. NAVIO also spares the patient the radiation exposure of a CT scan normally required to design the surgical plan – a savings equal to about 48 chest X-rays. In addition, only the Smith & Nephew Verilast implant has been approved by the FDA to claim a 30-year service life.

The NAVIO also gives the surgeon at St. George Surgical Center the option to replace the total knee joint or elect to replace only part of the knee. When it comes to NAVIO, if you want your surgery in St. George and at these prices, you must schedule your procedure at St. George Surgical Center. 

And compared with the hospital, consumers and employers ready to meet St. George Surgical Center’s timely payment terms and conditions can elect to contract directly with the surgery center outside of their Aetna, Cigna, Blue Cross and United provider network contracts and save more money than if they used their network and were forced to use the hospital. The actual cash savings adds up. Each knee or hip replacement performed in St. George saves the self-pay consumer or the employer tens of thousands of dollars per surgery.

Where do you stay if you have surgery at St. George Surgical Center?

Many of St. George Surgical Center’s patients stay in local hotels that range from $80-$150 per night. One other option is to stay in a serviced apartment at The Inn at Entrada, a 4-star accommodation at the renowned Entrada At Snow Canyon Country Club, where patients enjoy exclusive St. George Surgical Center discounted rates and all the country club amenities available to its residents.

Entrada’s Anasazi suite, St. George, Utah, date unspecified | Photo courtesy of St. George Surgical Center, St. George News

The Inn at Entrada affords the patient a clean, luxury “casita” that has no carpets that can become trip and fall hazards, no lobby to navigate to get to one’s room, full kitchens and grocery and pharmacy delivery service.  

Need physical therapy? Walk across the driveway to the fitness center with your physical therapist that makes house calls, all pre-arranged by St. George Surgical Center staffers. There are no kickbacks or commissions paid to “facilitators,” so one’s price quotes don’t include prices marked up to cover the cost of their commission and lead sourcing fees as is the norm in Mexico, India, Turkey and many other medical tourism locations.

What if you need your knee replaced or other surgery but can’t afford to pay it all up front?

For patients who must pay for the surgery themselves, St. George Surgical Center participates with several health care financing companies. Its primary lender, CarePayUSA, charges 0% interest, approves 97% of applicants with a job and modest credit and allows repayment terms of 9-12 months monthly or bi-weekly, with only 25% down.

CarePayUSA will also loan on the airfare, hotel and all ground support costs for the medical travel – but only if the surgery is performed at St. George Surgical Center. They pull a soft credit report, and the loan doesn’t show up on patient’s credit report, preserving patient privacy and debt-to-income ratio. They will report those who default.

They will loan to immigrants on green card status, U.S. residents and Canadians who travel to St. George for surgery. This means that St. George tourism for medical and dental procedures is more affordable than choosing an international medical tourism option in a foreign country.

Health care price transparency is paramount

Many foreign medical tourism providers quote prices that are unreal and bait and switch. The chart below explains the four different expense groups associated with a surgical procedure:

Promotional poster for St. George Surgical Center | Image courtesy of St. George Surgical Center, St. George News | Click to enlarge

Many of the foreign medical tourism prices appear to be a bargain, but the prices don’t reflect a full package. Often they only include just the surgeon’s fee or the hospital facility fee. St. George Surgical Center’s transparent package prices include everything in the second column.

Nobody really wants to spend 30 hours in one direction traveling to India or Argentina to have surgery, and in India, many surgeons require the patient to remain there for five weeks. At St. George Surgical Center, you can fly there from almost anywhere in the U.S. or Canada in under five hours, and your post-operative stay is usually only 2-3 business days.

In St. George, malpractice insurance and U.S.-licensed physicians with U.S. board certifications are the standard

That’s not always the case when you cross the border into Mexico or other countries. You won’t know what happens in the event of a complication unless you ask. You cannot assume there is malpractice insurance or how much coverage there is or how you’ll protect your interests if something goes wrong.

And if one experiences a complication, who pays and how much and where can one get help to rectify the problem? With cross-border medical tourism, patients can pay extra to self-insure for complications. That’s not necessary in St. George.

What if you pick up a nasty infection that doesn’t show up until after you’ve left your foreign hospital?

Recent reports from the Centers for Disease Control indicate that there are some nasty strains of infections piggybacking into the U.S. from foreign providers. At St. George Surgical Center, the infection rate average of 0.037% is better than the national average of 2.6% for U.S. hospitals. Most foreign hospitals don’t even advertise or state their infection rates because they may not be tracked after the patient has departed for home.

Written by MARIA TODD, St. George Surgical Center.

About the author

Maria Todd PhD, MHA is the director of business development for St George Surgical Center. She has assisted in the development of medical tourism program and destination development in the U.S. and 116 countries and is the author of seven internationally published, peer-reviewed business development books on medical tourism services. She welcomes questions from surgeons and healthcare providers about medical tourism.

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