Mayo readies services to draw patients from China

Downtown Rochester skyway
Pedestrians walk through the skyway in downtown Rochester, Feb. 14, 2013.
Alex Kolyer | For MPR News 2013

On the second floor of downtown Rochester's newest building, the H3 Plaza, workers install baseboard trim to prepare for the city's first international concierge service.

In a couple of months, the space will house the offices of MediSun, a Chinese company setting up a door-to-door service for Chinese patients traveling more than 6,000 miles for treatment at Mayo Clinic.

MediSun is spending about $1 million to complete the space, which it is leasing from Rochester's Titan Development and Investments.

"We feel it's a score to have them in the building," said Brian Moser, director of construction and development for the Rochester firm. "They can come in here and relax and they don't have to go sit in a hotel."

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Mayo Clinic wants to use the rapidly growing medical tourism market to draw more Chinese patients to Rochester for treatment. Besides collaborating with the new concierge service, the clinic is establishing a joint venture with an investment firm in China that plans to provide services to health providers there.

The concierge service's clients will primarily come from mainland China, said Jason Zhang, a senior vice president for MediSun.

Through offices in Hong Kong and Rochester, the company will coordinate airfare and ground transportation to hotel accommodations, said Zhang, who declined to say how much clients will spend on the service.

"So from the time they start thinking about going to Mayo, we'll help them get registration," he said. "We'll also help them to get visas, all those documents necessary to travel."

Zhang said most Chinese patients coming to Mayo Clinic are seeking treatment for complex conditions such as cancer, neurological disorders and cardiac problems. An increasing number of executives are tapping the clinic's executive care program, he said.

Zhang declined to say how many patients the company expects to serve, but he said there likely will be more than a couple dozen the first year.

He expects to hire up to six employees in Rochester during that time.

"Because of our decision to work exclusively with Mayo, we really know the system very well and Mayo is of course very willing to know the system, too," Zhang said. "So that when we tell patients what to expect, it's really what they are going to get."

Offering international patients a more culturally-sensitive visit — in medical facilities and in Rochester — is a priority for Mayo Clinic.

Its biggest growth is coming from China, said Dr. David Hayes, medical director of the Mayo Clinic Care Network.

But until now, he said, the clinic hasn't developed the services it needs for Chinese patients as it has done for Middle Eastern and Spanish-speaking patients. With the addition of MediSun, the clinic — and Rochester — have the ability to attract more visitors from China.

"They offer a number of things that would be culturally-sensitive to those international patients," Hayes said of MediSun.

Such services include translating educational material into Mandarin Chinese or having enough interpreters for non-English speaking Chinese patients. The clinic recently launched a Chinese language website.

Mayo Clinic currently has one full-time Mandarin-speaking interpreter and plans to add up to three clinic employees who can fill in as interpreters in the coming months. It has 14 full-time Arabic-speaking interpreters and five Spanish-speaking interpreters.

The clinic averages about 300 Chinese patients a year, a number that has grown sharply in the last couple years. Mayo Clinic officials declined to give comparable numbers for patients from the Middle East or Latin America.

But when it comes to China, Hayes anticipates strong growth.

"As we look down the road, I would see this population of patients developing to be similar or greater to what we're currently seeing from the Middle East," he said.

Mayo Clinic's other recent foray into the Chinese market is a joint venture with Hillhouse Capital Group to start a new company called HM Healthcare Management Services. As part of the collaboration, the clinic will license a portion of its health information, content and algorithms to the new company, according to Peter Streit, executive director of Mayo Clinic's Global Business Solutions.

Hillhouse plans to provide services to Chinese health providers, starting with a handful of private hospitals in Beijing and Shanghai, Streit said.

Mayo Clinic's international patients account for just about 2 percent of its more than 1 million patients each year. But Hayes and others aim to deepen the ties between the clinic and China, as future demand increases.