LA Mayor Promotes Medical Tourism From China

November 20, 2014 Updated: November 20, 2014

LOS ANGELES—L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti left on Nov. 15 for an eleven-day trip to China, South Korea, and Japan—L.A.’s number one, two, and three trading partners.

On Monday, while in Guangzhou, he signed a memorandum of understanding with nine institutions to promote medical travel to Los Angeles

One of the signatories was Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, which has offered specialty services to international patients for the last 15 years.

“In the past two years, the number of patients that have come from China has increased,” said Dr. Spencer Koerner, the medical director at the Center for International Health and Telemedicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. 

Koerner said international investors put the number of patients coming from China to the United States at around 400 to 500 last year. Whatever the numbers, they are expected to be double this year, increasing to the tens of thousands in a few years. 

Exact numbers of Chinese patients who come to the U.S. are unknown, since travelers use regular tourist visas and often don’t state the purpose of their trip in the visa interview, according to Saint Lucia, a medical travel consultant agency in Bejing. 

Birth tourism is already known to be hugely popular among Chinese citizens. Chinese state-run media reported in April a study found over 10,000 Chinese women gave birth in the U.S. in 2012. 

Many Chinese patients come to the U.S. for specialized treatments for cancer, and increasingly heart surgery.

“There are things that we have available here at Cedars-Sinai that are not available in other countries, and that’s the incentive for people to come here,” said Koerner.

One example is an experimental cancer treatment program at Cedars-Sinai that analyzes the genetic makeup of a cancerous tumor. Fifty different kinds of tumors have been successfully treated this way.

Koerner said Cedars-Sinai also provides a letter of recommendation for Chinese patients to expedite their visa process. He said it could be ready in a matter of days.

To support Mayor Garcetti’s new plan for L.A. medical travel, a Chinese-language website was unveiled earlier this week.

“Our strategy to attract foreign patients stems from the fact that L.A. is home to some of the world’s greatest healthcare providers, and the healthcare sector is one of our leading employers,” said Garcetti in a press release.

After Guangzhou, Garcetti visted the Chinese mega cities of Shenzen, Shanghai, and Beijing.

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