You might cringe at the idea of healthcare embracing the gig economy. For better or for worse, that is exactly what’s happening. The gig economy is opening doors of opportunity to patients, clinicians, and entrepreneurs willing to go beyond the traditional boundaries of medicine to come up with new ways of delivering healthcare. One example is an arrangement that sends locum tenens surgeons to Mexico.
According to Forbes contributor Jon Yonger, there is a Denver-based startup known as the North American Specialty Hospital (NASH) whose unique business model is benefiting U.S. surgeons and their Mexican counterparts by facilitating elective surgeries south of the border. American surgeons travel to Mexico to provide elective surgeries as part of a growing medical tourism industry.
Before you cringe, medical tourism is not necessarily a bad thing. It represents another model for delivering healthcare services that is every bit as legitimate as traditional delivery. And for the record, medical tourism is growing. Patients definitely want it, and organizations like NASH are more than happy to provide it.
How the System Works
NASH is neither the first nor the only organization involved in medical tourism. However, their approach relies heavily on locum tenens and arrangements with Mexican hospitals with accreditation from the Joint International Commission.
The organization has working agreements with such hospitals to provide cross-border elective surgeries. U.S. surgeons work with their Mexican counterparts under a locum tenens arrangement. They arrange for surgical procedures after consulting with their U.S. patients. Doctor and patient fly to Mexico, the procedure is performed, and everyone returns home.
One of the big benefits of this model is that it provides for postoperative care back home. Because doctor and patient are located in the same general vicinity, continuity of care is insured.
Obvious Administrative Challenges
It is not clear how NASH handles all of the administrative challenges that come with so many locum tenens surgeons providing on-demand care across the border. Common sense would dictate the need for a very strong administrative department.
It would also make sense that the company has a well-designed healthcare vendor management system in place. Such a system would keep track of each contracted surgeon, the procedures each one provides, names of patients and the dates of their procedures, and so forth. It would likely keep track of everything from billing to credentialing as well.
What NASH does is not at all unlike what other healthcare management services offer. They are just taking a locum tenens model that has worked for decades and added a twist by combining it with medical tourism and elective surgery.
Giving Patients Choices
All of the employment and administrative details aside, what NASH offers works well because it gives patients more choices. That’s what it’s all about. For too long, the U.S. healthcare system has focused primarily on the needs of insurance companies, healthcare facilities, and service providers. Patients have been little more than commodities fueling the healthcare industry. But things are changing.
There is a new emphasis on patient satisfaction these days. The industry is now being measured by combination of patient satisfaction and actual outcomes rather than revenue generated. In order to compete, facilities and service providers have to come up with new ways to guarantee patients are satisfied. Medical tourism combined with locum tenens service is one of those ways.
If you’re planning to fly to Mexico for elective surgery performed by a U.S.-based locum surgeon, you can thank the gig economy for the opportunity. The gig economy has shown our healthcare system that there are new and more innovative ways to do things.