Medical tourism continues to rise in the United States. In 2019 alone, nearly 2 million Americans have traveled abroad to receive a surgical procedure. The market is estimated to be close to $90 billion as out-of-pocket healthcare costs continue to rise domestically.
Joel Suckow worked in the elective surgery space at Johnson and Johnson for over a decade. During his tenure, he saw that surgeons often downplayed the cost of these surgeries — and even when they were more transparent, patients would find themselves burdened with the entire cost, and no other options.
When patients want alternatives, they jump online. Options touting Mexico or India for medical tourism abound, but information regarding other surgeons within the U.S. is a bit lacking.
Suckow saw an opportunity to create a solution at the intersection of elective surgery and technology. He built a national network of highly trained surgeons who had the autonomy to offer upfront pricing for each of their procedures.
“Our goal starting out was we wanted to make it easy for patients to prepare for and recover from elective surgery in the comfort of their own home,” says Suckow.
“They had a national, rather than a hyper-local, geography and access to care.”
Using digital health platform PureSurgery, patients can select an elective surgeon and remotely go from the initial consultation to pre-operative clearance, and then to post-op rehab. Currently, the marketplace focuses on orthopedic procedures like total joint replacements — expensive operations that patients can plan months in advance.
“We offer doctors a national and sometimes an international patient population, versus the hyper-local population that they’re used to drawing from,” says Suckow.
PureSurgery partners with employers looking to offer better healthcare perks for employees seeking better prices for certain procedures.
“Employers are very much aligned with the goals of getting their patient population to the highest-quality, lowest-cost facility that they can. Most of the time, those facilities aren’t close to their employee population,” says Suckow.
To alleviate the distance issue, an employee would enter the marketplace, choose a doctor, and set up a telehealth consultation via PureSurgery.
The surgeon will examine the employee’s medical history and other pertinent details.
After the surgeon schedules the surgery, the patient follows a digitized protocol detailing how to prepare for the operation.
“We’ve made a very personalized health examination of that specific patient,” says Suckow.
“We have optimized every risk factor that patient has in order for them, not just to survive the operation, but to have the best chance of a positive outcome. For example, if you’re a diabetic, working to lower your A1C levels before the surgery.”
PureSurgery also provides health coaches to help set fitness goals during surgery prep and on-demand nurses for questions.
“We’re using the elective procedure as the motivation for patients to change their lifestyle and actually start to be healthier individuals,” says Suckow.
Following the surgery, the patient dashboard uses gamification to encourage better recovery, with the help of a virtual physical therapist.
PureSurgery charges a service fee to employers per procedure. The team currently has a $500,000 seed round open to fund part of the pilot and additional integrations into the app.
The Charlotte-based startup has 200 patients nationwide lined up to go through the platform starting next month.