Hospitals partnering with hotels to offer health care packages

Health-centered getaways include spa services as well as diagnostic and preventive testing and consulting.

By Pamela Lewis Dolan — Posted June 18, 2007

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Nothing says romance like a room with a view, a relaxing massage, a candlelit dinner and a series of health tests.

Luxury resorts with a reputation for world renowned spa services are extending their traditional wellness programs into the realm of Western medicine. In addition to seaweed wraps and mud baths, some spa vacations now include a 64-slice cardiac CT, lung spirometry and myriad blood work and screening exams. And many are forging partnerships with hospitals and health care centers to meet the need.

"[P]eople are doing this on vacation because of convenience," said Karen Escalera, president and CEO of KWE Group, a travel and tourism marketing group based in Coral Gables, Fla. "It's hard for people to get the time. The whole idea is appealing ... to get it all done in one place."

The concept of relaxation and wellness has been around for a few years -- for example, Mel Zuckerman in 1979 opened his Canyon Ranch Spa in Tucson, Ariz., a healthy lifestyle resort, which now also runs a destination spa in Lenox, Mass., and has spa clubs in Miami and Las Vegas.

But Canyon Ranch also is among those expanding into the medical world. It recently partnered with the Cleveland Clinic and also hired former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona, MD, MPH, as its vice chair. The resort is hoping both moves will help expand the wellness concept to include traditional medicine and establish the resort as a cutting-edge diagnostic center.

The Four Seasons Chicago pitched the concept of a hospital partnership with Northwestern Memorial Hospital's Center for Partnership Medicine in Fall 2006. Using February (because of its designation as American Heart Month and Valentine's Day) as a launch date, the package was first marketed as "My Healthy Valentine" but was later changed to its permanent name of "Rx for Romance." The package is now offered year-round, starting at a rate of $8,900 per couple for one night.

"We're seeing a lot of interest and excitement," said Terri Hickey, spokeswoman for Four Seasons Chicago. "It's not only fun and luxurious but also good for them."

For Northwestern, the move made marketing sense, too. "Hospitals are really trying to make customer service a priority," said Lorrie Elliott, MD, an internist and assistant medical director of the Center for Partnership Medicine. After the staff of the center received customer service training from the Four Seasons (the hotel picks one company a year to train in its customer service style), an official partnership with the hotel made perfect sense, Dr. Elliott said.

The package includes three meetings with specialists of the patient's choosing; a full-body exam that includes a 64-slice cardiac CT, lab work, a mammogram and Pap smear for women and a PSA test for men; a wellness consultation; and a customized life plan.

The Four Seasons Hotel Westlake Village, Calif., which opened in November 2006, has a similar partnership with the California WellBeing Institute located adjacent to the hotel. The California WellBeing Institute offers a variety of spa services as well as advanced diagnostic and preventive testing and consulting. "Ultimate Health Packages" at the institute, which include a four-night stay at the Four Seasons, start at $5,560 per person. The package is geared toward executives but can be customized for couples.

Because many of the tests performed at the wellness centers are routine in nature, insurance often will cover them. Both Canyon Ranch and Northwestern say they do not work directly with payers, but they provide the necessary paperwork for reimbursement to the patients.

Travel and tourism experts say the growing relationships between hotels and hospitals is an extension to the expanding medical tourism industry. That industry began as a way for patients to receive surgeries outside the country, where the rates are cheaper.

But David L. Corsun, PhD, professor and director, School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management at the University of Denver, said the U.S. medical tourism industry will be driven by baby boomers looking to combine luxury with wellness.

"I would predict that the trend in the U.S. will be of more of a diagnostic, feel-good, healthy living nature rather than one that involves invasive medical procedures," he said.

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