After Pulse, Orlando Health program helps link international patients to home countries

There are two types of international patients: medical tourists who plan their hospital visit before they arrive here, and tourists who come to visit family members or theme parks and end up in the hospital unexpectedly.

For the latter group, the hospital visit can be stressful.

“It's a terrible experience for anyone to go through,” said Tricia Johnson, research director of U.S. Cooperative for International Patient Programs. “You're not in your country, and you might not speak the language, and that would make it difficult for you to contact your consulate.”

Orlando Health may have found a simple way to make the process easier for foreign patients and hospital staff.

The health system has modified its intake form to include questions about patients’ home address, nationality and citizenship. The information helps the staff identify international patients and provide them with contact information for their country’s embassy or area consulate.

The program was inspired by the Pulse shooting tragedy, which happened on the nightclub’s Latin night.

“We had international patients, and we were being bombarded by consulates who wanted to find out if we had a patient from their country,” said Eric Alberts, manager of emergency preparedness at Orlando Health. “And we didn’t know. It was taxing and arduous to find out if we had foreign nationals or not.”

The program was rolled out last fall and already it shows that many international patients want their consulates’ contact information. Health system leaders have also learned that their hospitals and emergency rooms are treating more international patients than they had estimated before.

“We thought we got 5,000 international patients a year… now we’ve updated it to more than 10,000,” Alberts said. “We had no idea how many international patients we were getting.”

Many hospitals care for international patients, particularly in areas that are major tourist attractions. Many also have international patient programs, which are prepared to address this population’s unique needs. But in most hospitals, these programs don’t get involved with every international patient who visits the emergency room, nor are they well-known to the staff.

Orlando Health’s program integrates this process, which is called “nation-reunification,” at the procedural level, said John Corfield, corporate emergency preparedness specialist at Orlando Health.

“When I read the white paper, I thought what a great idea,” said Johnson, a professor at Rush University.

The program is the result of collaboration between Orlando Health’s emergency preparedness team and patient access department. The team has also worked with the Office of Foreign Mission at the U.S. Department of State, which can help in times of disaster to disseminate patients’ contact information to multiple consulates.

Consulates, which are satellite offices of embassies, can provide support to their nationals and also to the health system. They can help with the transferring of records, locating family members and helping with patient identification.

“It'll save the health care system an awful lot of time and effort,” said Corfield, who used to be a consular officer with the British Consulate General in Miami and helped British nationals when something catastrophic happened.

Orlando Health’s analysis of the pilot program showed that between October 2017 and January this year the hospital gave nearly 5,300 patients information or consular support. Patients came from 110 nations, but the top three countries with the most number of visits were Haiti, Brazil and Venezuela.

“There are many health systems that think they’re not getting foreign nationals, and I challenge them to put [our program] in place and find out if they are right,” said Corfield.

[email protected], 407-420-5158, @naseemmiller

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