Surgical Tourism Destination Development - St George, Utah



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WHAT's new in this small town in southern utah?

About the Author

About the Author

Maria Todd is frequently hired as a consulting expert and trusted authority on medical tourism program development. She helps medical groups, individual physicians, hospitals and ambulatory surgery facilities and other healthcare providers build their medical travel program and product and pricing strategies. Then, she helps them market both on and offline for the greatest opportunities for business development and destination branding.

Maria works as the Director of Business Development at St George Surgical Center on a part time basis and is available to help physicians, hospitals and ASCs develop similar programs in the USA and abroad.

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St George, Utah is home to door busting prices for robotic-assisted knee replacement surgery packages priced at $14,990 including the implant, surgeon, anesthesia, facility fee. It boasts some of the most advanced eye surgery technology at prices 90% less than list prices in New York’s pricey Park Avenue ophthalmology centers, high-quality dental implants and very low prices by second generation dentist families, and anterior approach hip replacements for Canadians tired of waiting years to treatment with packages priced under $20,000.

St George Surgical Center in St George, Utah has been climbing its way to the top of the transparent, bundled price surgery movement for the past 5 years. What started out with a handful of cosmetic surgery procedures for cash pay patients has turned into an innovative and lucrative business opportunity. Local residents, the ambulatory (same day / outpatient) surgery center, its physician owners, a handful of independent, non-IHC employed physicians with the freedom to be innovative and participate in bundled price surgery services, and St George’s growing tourism industry all benefit from what’s happening here.

The economic impact of medical tourism in St George

Visitors to St George, Utah who plan surgery in St George spend as much as $12,000 per person, per trip, and medical tourism supports more than 1000 of the Washington County workforce with hotel, ASC and clinics, ground transportation, food and beverage, airport and airline, pharmacy, physical therapy, nursing, and other related employment.  

Compared to Utah’s behemoth IHC’s Dixie Regional Hospital down the street from SGSC, prices for surgical packages on about 300 surgery procedures in 14 specialties and pain management at St George Surgical Center tend to run about 60-80% less in price affording a more humane option for the uninsured and for employers. 

Employers and insurers are embracing the opportunity to save hard dollars on health benefits

Unlike many cash pay programs in the USA, most won’t allow employers to take advantage of these extremely discounted prices. But for those that contract directly with the Surgical Center and send injured workers and employees and dependents to St George with full payment for their surgery, and travel and accommodation for two people, they can save more than $100,000 with only six surgeries in a year! And they don’t need to leave the USA. Many have never discovered the magnificent red rocks and lava flows that surround St George, Utah, not to mention the proximity of the 5 national parts and state parks that are within a short drive.

When self-funded employers contract with St George Surgical Center, they save so much money on the surgery that they often waive copayments and deductibles, and pay 100% of related travel expenses. That includes expenses for accommodation and meals and ground transportation while in St George.  And unlike its IHC hospital competitor, taxes are paid on all these revenues, adding to the Washington County household tax relief for local residents. 

Currently, St George Surgical Center maintains two, 4-inch binders of contracts with self-insured employers and third-party administrators who fly their plan participants to nearby Las Vegas (90 minutes south by car or shuttle) or directly into St George Regional Airport (SGU) touching down 20 minutes drive from the facility. 

With the expansion of its new NAVIO robotic-assisted knee replacement surgery and certification of two top-notch, board certified, fellowship trained orthopedic surgeons, St George is the first and only NAVIO-equipped health facility from Phoenix to the Idaho border.

NAVIO robotic-assisted knee replacement affords surgeon and patient increased precision in making the cuts into the bone for better, tighter knee implant installation. The kind of precision that one cannot achieve (measured in millimeters) with the surgeon’s natural wrist movement.  Navio also spares the patient the radiation exposure of a CT scan normally required to design the surgical plan – a savings equal to about 48 chest x-rays. In addition, only the Smith & Nephew Verilast implant has been FDA approved to claim a 30-year service life. And the Navio also gives the surgeon at St George Surgical Center the option to replace the total knee joint or elect to replace only part of the knee. They can’t use the Navio at the hospital or other surgery centers because the competitors don’t own a NAVIO robot. When it comes to NAVIO, if you want your surgery in St George, at these prices, you must schedule your procedure at SGSC. 

And compared with the hospital, consumers and employers ready to meet St George Surgical Centers timely payment terms and conditions can elect to contract directly with the Surgery Center outside of their Aetna, Cigna, Blue Cross and United provider network contracts and save more money than if they used their network and were forced to use the hospital. The actual cash savings adds up. Each knee or hip replacement performed in St George saves the self-pay consumer or the employer about $30,000 per surgery!

Where do you stay if you have surgery in St George Utah at St George Surgical Center?

Many of SGSC’s patients stay in local hotels that range $80-$150 per night. One other option is to stay in a service apartment at The Inn at Entrada, a 4-star accommodation at the renowned Entrada At Snow Canyon Country Club, where patients enjoy exclusive SGSC discounted rates and all the country club amenities available to its residents.  The Inn at Entrada affords the patient a clean, luxury “casita” that has no carpets that become trip and fall hazards, no lobby to get to one’s room, and full kitchens and grocery and pharmacy delivery service.  

Need physical therapy? Walk across the driveway to the fitness center with your physical therapist that makes house calls, all pre-arranged by St George Surgical Center staffers.  There are no kickbacks or commissions paid to “facilitators”, so one’s price quotes don’t include prices marked up to cover the cost of their commission and lead sourcing fees as is the norm in Mexico, India, Turkey and many other medical tourism locations.

anasazi suite at the Inn at Entrada

What if you need your knee replaced or you need other surgery and you can’t afford to pay it all up front?

For patients who must pay for the surgery themselves, St George Surgical Center participates with several healthcare financing companies.  Its primary lender, CarePayUSA, charges 0% interest, approves 97% of applicants with a job and modest credit, and allows repayment terms of 9-12 months monthly or bi-weekly, with only 25% down. CarePayUSA will also loan on the airfare, hotel and all ground support costs for the medical travel, but only if the surgery is performed at St George Surgical Center. They pull a soft credit report and the loan doesn’t show up on patients’ credit reports – preserving patient privacy and debt to income ratio. They will report those who default.

And they will loan to immigrants on green card status, US residents and Canadians who travel to St George for surgery.  This means that St George tourism for medical and dental procedures is more affordable than choosing an international medical tourism option in Mexico, India, and other foreign countries.

Healthcare Price Transparency is Paramount

Many foreign medical tourism providers quote prices that are unreal and bait and switch.  The chart below explains the four different expense groups associated with a surgical procedure:


Many of the foreign medical tourism prices appear to be a bargain, but the prices don’t reflect a full package. Often they only include just the surgeon’s fee or the hospital facility fee.  St George Surgical Center’s transparent package prices include everything in the second column. Nobody really wants to spend 30 hours in one direction traveling to India or Argentina to have surgery. But in India, many surgeons require the patient to remain in India for five weeks!  At St George Surgical Center, you can fly there from almost anywhere in the USA or Canada in under 5 hours, and your post-operative stay is usually only 2-3 business days. 

In St George, malpractice insurance and US licensed physicians with US board certification is the standard

That’s not always the case when you cross the border into Mexico or other countries. You won’t know what happens in the event of a complication unless you ask. You cannot assume that there is malpractice insurance or how much coverage there is or how you’ll protect your interests if something goes wrong. And if one experiences a complication, who pays and how much and where can one get help to rectify the problem? With cross border medical tourism, patients can pay extra to self-insure for complications.  That’s not necessary in St George.

What if you pick up a nasty infection that doesn’t show up until after you’ve left your foreign hospital?

Recent reports from the Centers for Disease Control indicate that there are some nasty strains of infections piggybacking into the USA from foreign providers. At St George Surgical Center, the infection rate average (0.037%)  is better than the national average for U.S. hospitals (2.6%). Most foreign hospitals don’t even advertise or state their infection rates because they may not be tracked after the patient has departed for home.

Learn more about medical travel to St George, Utah in this brief video

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