TRAVERSE CITY — Great Lakes Plastic Surgery center owner Dr. Matthew Smith draws some patients from outside northwest Michigan, but he loses even more.
“People go a lot of times to Mexico,” Smith said. “I’ve had patients who have gone to the Czech Republic because they either have family there, or they read somewhere they can get a plane ticket and still the cost is only going to be 50 percent of what it is in Traverse City.”
It’s a practice called medical tourism, where patients leave home to have procedures elsewhere.
Smith said patients sometimes come to his Traverse City office so they can recover away from their social circles, but most who leave home are seeking cheaper procedures.
He sees the real cost as the risk of recovering from surgery far away from the surgeon who did the procedure.
“What happens when there’s a complication?” Smith said. “It’s not like you’re going to turn around a week or two after surgery and get back to Mexico.”
Business Leaders for Michigan, a group that researches the state economy, lists medical tourism as a potential boost for the state’s finances. Business Leaders for Michigan Vice President Kelly Chesney said some Michigan hospitals, such as Beaumont Hospital in metro Detroit, already market themselves outside of their geographic region.
Alonzo Lewis, Vice President for Women & Children’s Services and Business Development at Beaumont Hospital, said the hospital reaches out to smaller, area medical centers hoping to be first on their lists in case they need help, and wants to staff renowned physicians who will draw patients with their expertise. It also markets itself as a destination, hoping dollars spent on advertising will mean potential patients searching the Internet see Beaumont’s name first.
Dale Killingbeck of Munson Medical Center’s communications department said the hospital doesn’t market itself to patients outside northern Michigan.