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Medical Tourism

Medical Tourism


Medical tourism has increased substantially over the past decade, so much so that it is now its own subcategory of travel. Medical tourism generally describes travel associated with seeking specific medical treatments outside of your local city, state, or country.

People are in search of the best health care possible, making medical travel a multibillion-dollar industry. North Central Florida is a medical destination for critical care (cardiac care, oncology, pediatric specialties, etc.), dental procedures, rehabilitation, general health and wellness (fitness, spa services), elective procedures (cosmetic surgery), and veterinary procedures.

According to UF Health, the University of Florida’s academic health center, it’s all in the numbers: 10 hospitals, including UF Health Shands, ranked the No. 1 hospital in Florida in the 2020- 21 U.S. News & World Report Best Hospitals survey; two animal hospitals; nine research centers and institutes, three regional campuses, 2,404 instructional, research and clinical faculty, and 150-plus physician practices at UF alone shape the medical terrain. Included in the landscape are multiple centers of excellence, and internationally ranked health and wellness facilities.

VP of Business & Government Relations for Claimeye, Jacob Wychulis, tells us that a medical destination also includes medical migration, both making a large contribution to the local economy. “The intention of traveling for long-term care or moving for weeks or months for physicians or rehab defines medical migration,” he says, “This generally includes the rest of the family visiting for weeks or months.”


Of the hospitals mentioned above, three are positioned as the driving force behind our medical destination designation. Top 100 U.S. Hospitals UF Health Shands and UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital, as well as North Florida Regional Medical Center (NFRMC), bring people to the area from the 67 counties of Florida, all 50 states, and dozens of countries. In addition, we have one of the largest and fastest-growing veterans’ hospitals in the nation, the Malcom Randall Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

David R. Nelson, M.D., senior VP for health affairs at UF and president of UF Health, says, “UF Health is one of only a handful of academic health centers in the country that feature the full complement of medical colleges, research facilities, and hospitals.” He adds, “Landmark research has an almost immediate effect on people’s lives, translating directly into care. Which, in turn, translates into our economy in many ways.’’

Responsible for the oversight of UF Health Shands Hospital, UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital, UF Health Shands Cancer Hospital, UF Health Shands Psychiatric Hospital, UF Health Heart & Vascular Hospital, and UF Health Neuromedicine Hospital, CEO Ed Jimenez agrees. “When people have the most complex of medical issues, we have the world-class experts to treat them. When you do all of these things well, you end up becoming a destination.”

NFRMC, part of North Florida Regional Healthcare, is a full-service medical and surgical acute care center that is dedicated to quality healing. NRFMC offers comprehensive cardiovascular care, oncology, orthopedics, and other areas that draw medical patients furthering our medical destination status.

UF Health & NFRMC both offer leading-edge, minimally invasive laparoscopic and robotic surgery, via the state-of-the-art da Vinci® Surgical Systems. Used in advanced, high-volume surgery, the result is less pain, smaller incisions, and less time in the hospital.


Specialties within domains — or subspecialties — with worldwide recognition, like Tyler’s Hope for a Dystonia Cure, are programs that encourage people to travel to Greater Gainesville. Dystonia is the third most common movement disorder after Parkinson’s disease and tremor. UF is prominently working on research and has programs for children and families within this program.

With the explosion of autism-related disorders and in search of relief from the symptoms, families with autistic children and adults seek out Gainesville specialists as well. Opened in February 2020, the UF Health Center for Autism and Neurodevelopment Disorders, or UF Health CAN, provides a variety of services for those with this diagnosis. Clinical research, university training programs, community outreach, and advocacy efforts, and an inclusive community by providing support and transition into adulthood add another level of positive financial implications for our economy.

Other area specialties include: the Lewy Body Dementia Association, the Parkinson’s Foundation, the Tourette Association of America, The Huntington’s Disease Society, the UF Progressive Supranuclear Palsy & Atypical Parkinsonism Center of Care Clinic (the first CurePSP Center of Care), the Pediatric Asthma Center at the University of Florida, the UF Health Congenital Heart Center’s Pediatric Cardiac MRI/CT Center, the UF Health Shands Transplant Center and so many more.


Globally and locally, the economic impact is grand.

The American Journal of Medicine in 2019 put the number of those traveling for both spa tourism and medical destination between $74 billion to $92 billion annually by 2024.

Greater Gainesville, for all the reasons above and below, is reaping the benefits of medical destination travel. From filling up a gas tank to staying in a hotel, dollars flow into our economy. Most importantly, recruitment. Toplevel medical research staff brings grant funding into our economy. According to Jimenez, “With researchers come family and staff and NIH grants. This number compounds as money is spent in the local economy.”

“UF completed a study in 2019,” says Jessica Hurov, tourism development manager for Visit Gainesville/ Alachua, “and the Economic Contributions to Florida 2017-2018 study deciphers what drives visitors from across Florida, and around the nation and world, to our region… including the area of tourism.”

The study says UF Health Shands had over 775,000 visitor days. “Multiply this by the industry standard of 165 visitor dollars per day,” says Hurov, “and this equals a $128 million direct impact for the medical sector — food, lodging, ground transportation, and incidentals (no airlines).”

The total community benefit of UF Health across its Gainesville and Jacksonville campuses in 2019 was $254.9 million, which includes $184.3 million in unsponsored charity care and social responsibility.

“Every year, the number of research dollars grow,” Greater Gainesville Chamber President & CEO Eric Godet says, weighing in. “UF is always up there with MIT and Harvard in terms of research dollars. All of the medical research and the commitment is the key, putting us just shy of a billion dollars in research, and growing,” says Godet.


Rehabilitation and health and wellness are another component to our medical destination status. After an orthopedic procedure, or otherwise, quite often rehabilitation is necessary, and exercise encouraged. With follow-up appointments necessary, that patient is usually here longer term, using local facilities.

One such place, ReQuest Physical Therapy, is part of the acclaimed fitness empire owned by Joe Cirulli. With four locations for rehabilitation and physical therapy, thousands and thousands of people from around the world have recovered to better health here. Treating back pain to hip and knee, neck and shoulder, lymphedema, pre-and postsurgical, all in offices in Gainesville, Alachua, and Newberry.

Cirulli is also the owner of three globally ranked fitness centers, Gainesville Health & Fitness offers a total of more than 900 classes. Cirulli is also responsible for making and keeping Gainesville “The Healthiest Community in America.”

With enough information that’s come out over the years, 42 years in the business, Cirulli says, “I think a lot of people think that getting in shape is the best alternative to being sick.” Gainesville Health & Fitness is a main draw for fitness in the county.


Progress Park is an impressive setting for many biosciences, tech, and other related companies attracted to the vitality of the area. Progress Park borders the 7,000-acre San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park, home to the leading bio business incubators in the nation.

One such incubator, UF Innovate | Sid Martin Biotech, has attracted more than $8.9 billion in equity. Moving research discoveries from the lab to the market, UF Innovate | Sid Martin Biotech helps foster our resilience as a medical destination. “We’re in a biomedical hub,” according to Rick Staab, founder & CEO of The InterMed Group (also providing biomedical services and technology management) and President and Co-Founder of Tyler’s Hope. Research and development — biotech — certainly make an impact here.

“I’ve actually talked to very high-end researchers from different institutions asking what we are doing down here because the momentum is awesome,” Staab shares. “People want to be part of the medical side of things that didn’t want to be here before.”


Further proof that we continue to evolve as a medical destination is Hotel ELEO, a 173-room, high-quality hotel for the select purpose of housing medical travelers that opened in July 2020. “The families of patients will have a much-needed amenity to make their experience at UF Health hospitals more welcoming. Lodging that is readily available and convenient adds to the patient-care experience by allowing loved ones to be close by during medical treatments,” says Dr. Nelson.

With comfortable accommodations, high-tech amenities, and personalized service in the Hotel ELEO, “We’ve created a convenient, essential service for our patients and families,” says UF CEO Jimenez.

“Gainesville and the surrounding area is a medical hub,” says Wychulis, who has a history in medical tourism/ destinations. He says, “We’re not just a hospital system. We’re a great place to visit, too.”

See Also

We have 12 months of sunshine a year, a sports-centric community (Go Gators!), nature trails galore for biking and hiking, and a fine arts community second to none. Not to mention, a quaint downtown and quality shopping and restaurants.

“It shows the rest of the world that sometimes it doesn’t matter where your corporate office is,” says Staab. “Here, there is a focus, there is the regional support. We can communicate with the top people who make decisions for medical health care in the world right here from Gainesville,” he continues, and, “It also doesn’t hurt that we are known for great health care. Of course, UF, but also North Florida. People know that we’re in a health care mecca.”



abbreviated list –
• Gatorade

• Feline AIDS vaccine

• Human patient simulator

• Bionic eye

• Deep-brain stimulation

• HIV saliva test

• Nasal flu vaccine

SOCIAL DETERMINANTS OF HEALTH – –––––––––––––––––––––

DEFINITION: When identifying a particular area or population of a demographic region that has been impacted by a certain disease or natural disaster that has promoted health risks and diseases. This has become a new component of determining a medical destination.


Cities and states in the health care industry make adjustments to benefit lifespan and keep people out of the health system. (i.e., a spike in lung issues related to asbestos.)

This creates a collaborative ecosystem for patients, providers, and payers/health plans/insurance companies.

Not relevant to Greater Gainesville at this time.


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