According to the Florida Chamber of Commerce, anywhere from 300,000 to 400,000 visitors to the Sunshine State are admitted to Florida hospitals each year, accounting for 5% of Florida’s hospital patients.

They receive an estimated $6 billion in services, but Chamber Executive Vice President Tony Carvajal says that with more cohesive marketing the state can bring in even more dollars from these out-of-state patients. “What we have that few others do is that we are a fantastic destination, and we have a robust hospitality business, and we already know how to work with people,” he said.

Carvajal’s remarks come as the Florida Chamber is preparing to release the final portion of a $235,000 study it conducted for Visit Florida over the course of the past 15 months.

The report, titled “A Strategic Look at Florida’s Medical Tourism Opportunities,” won’t be released until at least Friday, but already the Florida Chamber has held town hall meetings in Jacksonville and Naples to discuss the findings. Meetings are scheduled for Miami and Orlando later this month.

The study is part of a $5 million effort, funded in 2014 by the Florida Legislature, to enhance the medical tourism market in the state.

Carvajal said that in 50 hours of one-on-one interviews as well as through focus groups and other research, the study revealed that the significant majority of visiting patients come to Florida with plans to have medical work done. He added that a bit less than a third of the patients come from international destinations, notably Canada, Brazil and a variety of Latin American and Caribbean markets.

The $6 billion figure, he emphasized, doesn’t even account for medical work done outside of hospitals.

“When we’re talking about medical tourism, it’s a significantly under-reported asset,” he said.

The report, said Carvajal, will recommend that Florida build a broader statewide brand promoting itself as a health and wellness hub. After all, he said, the Sunshine State has famed medical facilities such as the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, the University of Miami’s Sylvester Cancer Center and branches of the Mayo and Cleveland clinics, to name just a few.

Renowned physicians, such as Jacksonville eye surgeon Arun Gulani, are located here, as well.

But while opportunities for top-rate medical care abound in Florida, what makes the state stand out from other regions of the U.S. is what the area offers during recuperation.

“If you’re in Rochester right now you can’t walk out of the hospital and do rehab because it’s too cold,” Carvajal said, referencing the Minnesota home of the Mayo Clinic, which is also making a play for medical tourists. “But you can do that here.”

Of course, medical tourism is about more than just the medical procedure.

Patients and their families need a place to stay. They also need transportation, meals, recreational opportunities and houses of worship.

Private vendors, such as Floridamedicaltourism.com, which was founded by a cardiologist in the Tampa area, make that connection. In fact, the company counts as one of its partners Visit Tampa Bay. On the site, which is geared in particular toward Middle Eastern tourists, the company advertises its full-service nature and says it will arrange everything from trip insurance to tours to an interpreter.

The Florida Chamber study will suggest that towns and cities focus on what Carvajal called “coordinated community concierge services.”

So far, Visit Florida has put most of its medical tourism funding toward promotion. Last year, the semipublic tourism sponsor awarded $3.1 million in grants to health care providers, medical facilities and local tourism agencies for the promotion of medical meetings and general medical tourism.

Carvajal said the chamber report states that marketing and research are properly Visit Florida’s biggest roles.

Community coordination, he said, needs to happen organically at the local level and within local marketplaces.

“It’s not just about the health care. It’s about the health care and the experience,” Carvajal said.

   

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