Revenue loss for key US medical travel state

The absence of international patients in 2020 due to the pandemic led to a loss of US$294 million for Houston, Texas, a leading medical travel destination in America.

Thousands of out-of-state and international medical tourists usually go to clinics, hospitals and medical centres in Houston, Texas.

Houston’s Texas Medical Centre, for example, receives 24,000 international medical tourists each year, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced many to stay home due to travel restrictions. Outpatient procedures such as gastric sleeve surgery, and physical rehabilitation services, are the most popular treatments sought out at the Centre. Many patients also visit for cancer and paediatric care.

Prior to the pandemic, medical tourists brought US$1 billion in revenue to the city, according to the Center for Medical Tourism Research at the University of Incarnate Word.  It states that the sudden absence of international patients forced Houston to lose at least US$294 million in 2020.

People travel from Canada, Mexico, Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Vietnam for care in Houston. The average visitor spends US$3,400 on food, hotel stays and other incidentals when coming for care.  The pandemic both restricted the international patient flow, but also severely limited the number of visitors and care givers being allowed access to the treatment facilities alongside the patient.

MD Anderson Cancer Centre barred visitors entirely unless they were the adult caregivers of a patient. Texas Children’s Hospital limited their visitor policy to just one parent in the room.

COVID-19 has also caused patients with less urgent medical issues to delay care. 41% of people in the U.S. put off seeking preventive care in 2020, worried about COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This has created pent-up demand.

For hospitals, which make much of their revenue from elective procedures and a large part of their businesses is based off international visitors, 2020 was a disaster. 2021 has been slow so far but the Delta variant, travel restrictions and fear suggest that optimistic predictions of a record recovery in the rest of 2021 are likely to be far off the mark.