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Medical tourism pitch falls flat

Speaking to medical professionals, Cheryl Smith laid out a medical tourism game plan Tuesday night that scored few points with her audience.

“What kind of experience are you providing your patients that is richer and more decadent than what they might experience” either at home or elsewhere, said Smith, who last month became the Las Vegas Convention and Visitor Authority’s medical tourism sales manager.

Her remarks introduced a panel discussion staged by the Southern Nevada Medical Industry Coalition.

“I hope (nobody) saw me cringe,” Dr. Sean Ameli, medical director of the K/E Centers for Advance Medicine and a member of the panel, said later.

“I would have not used the word decadent,” added Dr. Geoffrey Sher, executive medical director of the Sher Institute for Reproductive Medicine.

He and other physicians said the only way to attract more patients from outside Las Vegas is by offering high-quality and innovative treatment.

As the coalition ramps another effort to fill hotel rooms with patients coming from outside Las Vegas, it is encountering a familiar chasm.

On one side, the tourism industry is selling “what happens here stays here” as a complement to treatments. On the other side, medical professionals say people will come only for the superior medicine, with the other attractions as side dishes, at most.

“People will follow the quality of the doctors and the innovativeness of the practice,” said Dr. Nicholas Vogelzang, of the Comprehensive Cancer Centers of Nevada. “If the doctors aren’t that good, who cares where they are.”

Trying to meld a tourism pitch with medical care “is a little different thought process than what a lot of physicians are used to, including myself,” said Dr. James Atkinson, director of the Gastric Band Institute of Las Vegas.

“What we had (at the panel discussion) was a think tank session on creating a template for how to proceed,” said Sher. “We are trying to ferret out the islands of expertise and figure out how to harness them. The setting (of Las Vegas) can only embellish the opportunity.”

In 2011, the Sher Institute drew about half of its 461 patients outside the state or country.

However, some patients don’t want to spend any more time in Las Vegas than they have to. In his blog, Comprehensive Cancer patient Dan Maryon of Salt Lake City wrote in September that he never visited the Strip during 18 months of treatments.

Contact reporter Tim O’Reiley at toreiley@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5290.

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