When Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck opened a satellite clinic in Haiti to treat the under-served, they got a surprise. Americans traveling for treatment there for good care at cheaper rates made the out-post so successful it’s been upgraded and expanded to a become a full-size, full-service hospital. No one’s more surprised than Holy Name CEO Michael Maron. NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams recently asked him what caused the shift from medical tourists seeking treatment not approved by the FDA to tourists seeking treatment they could get at home.
Williams: Thank you for being here.
Maron: Thank you for having me.
Williams: You know when medical tourism started it was people seeking treatments for things not approved yet by the FDA in America. Now you can get cardiatric, bariatric surgery, whatever over there. What’s propelled that?
Maron: So part of it is the need in Haiti for us. There’s domestic demand that is just off the charts. We’ve been fortunate that we have over 1,000 U.S. volunteers who come down. So if you look at the environment, very inexpensive labor — inexpensive operating environment if you will. We have U.S. volunteers, some of the best.
Williams: When you say volunteers are you talking about people serving residencies or are you talking about internships?
Maron: No, no. These are fully licensed, trained physicians, many of them in the twilight of their carrier who’ve decided to give back. They come down and they say, “We want to give up our time,” and they give us seven days and we’ll bring our own team of nurses, technicians and other physicians and we will help train your Haitian physicians but we’ll also treat the population that’s there. So the care is actually very, very good. What’s happened now is word’s spread and Haitians have called back to their families and said, “You know you could probably come here and get as good or better” because some of these guys come from all over — from Florida, Washington D.C., St. Louis, New York metropolitan area, New England, Washington State. So we get some of the best and brightest from across the country and they’re available and the Haitians figured that out and said come on home.
Williams: And what does this do? How has is changed Holy Name Hospital here?
Maron: Well for us here it’s been amazing. When we got in, it was really just to help stabilize and build a bridge to help train us. We got so involved that we realized we couldn’t extract out. What I didn’t anticipate for our staff — who are all voluntary, no one in Holy Name is obligated to go to Haiti — but so many have volunteered they are a hundred times better at what they do here as a result of it. Which is not something we had anticipate, but I now see it. It’s palpable. We witness it every day. This morning I had a meaning with a bunch of our staff.
Williams: What do you see in the future in terms of medical tourism? Do you see it expanding?
Maron: I do.
Williams: And other hospitals expanding it as well?
Maron: Yeah, well there are not a lot of hospitals in Haiti. But in other areas, yes I can see that happening.
Williams: And what is propelling people to seek care overseas?
Maron: Part of it is cost. So there’s a cost driver, there is an innovation driver that other countries do not have. So the ability to sort of pushing the cutting edge of clinical trials and new techniques.
Williams: So you’re even talking about our doctors going overseas to practice and to try new things?
Maron: Sure, yeah there’s some incredible education that can occur both futuristic but also a return to simplicity. We’ve gotten very technical and very complicated and what a lot of the U.S. volunteers who’ve come to Haiti remark about is that it is a reminder of how you can practice very good, effective medicine without all the imaging, without all the high tech when you’re forced to engage and innovate knowing that you have little resources. In many respects, it’s better medicine.
Williams: I’m going to go back to tourism. How is it going to affect the insurance companies — to the extent more and more people seek treatment elsewhere — how do you think that’s going to affect the insurance companies who are controlling all of health care here?
Maron: Well, it depends. I don’t know that it’ll ever grow to be such a large segment of the business that it’s going to have an effect on the local insurance companies. Today everybody goes overseas paying out of pocket. But as insurance changes in the U.S. and individual consumers have to pay more out of pocket, they’re going to start shopping and looking for alternatives. So I wouldn’t be surprised if we see high deductibles, high copay plans emerging — and they’re everywhere now becoming more the norm — people are going to start to ask questions and shop. They’re no longer just going to say, “Well my insurance company’s going to pay for it. I’m just going to go to wherever the local facility is the best.”
Williams: And then that effect of that would be?
Maron: Big shifts of business both ways if you think about it.
Williams: Competition will make for better…
Maron: Competition, out migration… We talk about out migration — New Jersey to New York, New Jersey to Philadelphia. We’ve never talked about out migration from New Jersey to some other country.
Williams: But we’re talking about it now.
Maron: Could be a real possibility.
Williams: Do you think that will make health care — in the aggregate — better in the United States?
Maron: I think it will. To me, as long as it’s done above board. I’m a big advocate for transparency and competitiveness. When that occurs and you measure on the right metrics — meaning quality and overall cost — health care gets better. There’s no doubt about it. Physicians, the real innovators in health care, think about how they were educated. They were always competitive in school, right? They want to advance. They’re very proud of their accomplishments are so they’re overachievers. A competitive environment can be very, very healthy when it’s orchestrated the right way. If it’s done wrong, it can be very detrimental.
Williams: OK, thank you very much for being with us.
Maron: Thank you for having me.