Columbia health services work to draw in patients from around the state

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COLUMBIA - The mayor's medical tourism task force has finalized its recommendations on how to make Columbia a medical hub in Mid-Missouri.

The city council held a work session Monday to hear the recommendations, which have been in the works since August.

The task force, one of mayor Brian Treece's first initiatives in office, focuses on educating Mid-Missouri on Columbia's medical services and specialists.

"Columbia is a bit of a well-kept secret. We've got a wealth of providers here on the hospital and physician side," said Guy Collier, a health care lawyer in Washington D.C. and chair of the medical task force.

Collier was chosen to head the task force due to his impartiality and knowledge in the healthcare field.

"I don't represent the parties here. The thought was I could be sort of a Switzerland and bring parties into the room together and chair the task force for the mayor," Collier said.

The task force's first recommendation is to change the name of the initiative.

"We realized this really wasn't so much medical tourism trying to get people from other countries to come here, so much as a medical destination service initiative" Collier said.

The reason behind the name change was to keep the initiative's focus local.

"We have some services that are national in scope, but what we're really most concerned about is getting people in this 25 county area of central Missouri to come here and stay here instead of going to St. Louis or Kansas City or Chicago for their care," Collier said.

The task force is also trying to stand apart from other initiatives by selling the entire city of Columbia as a place to come for medical care on behalf of all the medical providers. Most medical tourism initiatives focus on single medical providers, such as the Mayo Clinic.

The providers in Columbia's initiative include University Hospital and its separate facilities, Boone Hospital Center, Harry S. Truman Veteran's Hospital and single specialty practice groups with "cutting-edge technology."

"I think our strength lies in our diversity," said Gene Austin, another member of the task force and part of the Columbia Orthopedic Group.

The task force is also pairing up with hotels in the region, such as Hampton Inn and Suites and Holiday Inn Express.

"When people come to Columbia to access health care, they're going to need to stay," Collier said. "We thought connecting the transportation and hospitality providers with the health care providers would let us have a seamless experience when people come to Columbia."

At the work session meeting, response to the recommendations was positive. The mayor and the rest of the city council were particularly interested in implementing a web portal for the initiative.

"It would be a central repository of information on our providers: hospitality providers, transportation providers and of course health care providers," Collier said.

The next step is to have the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau lay out an implementation plan to the city council, which they will complete in the next couple of months.