This Week in Jacksonville: Business Edition – How medical tourism is shaping Florida’s fast-paced growth

Most of us know Florida’s population is expanding.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Florida is the fastest-growing state in the nation. Between 2021 and 2022, Florida’s population increased by 1.9%, and its population in 2022 is over nine times the size of its population from 1946.

That growth has an impact on services like healthcare, but there’s something else that may affect the population growth as well: medical tourism.

On this episode of This Week in Jacksonville: Business Edition, we’re looking at a specific example linked to medical tourism. Studies show several benefits to a local economy from medical tourism: revenue generation, job creation, infrastructure development, increased tax revenue, promotion of local businesses, and enhanced reputation.

Each hospital job in Florida supports 1.73 additional jobs in the state, and every $1 spent by hospitals supports $1.25 in additional business activity. Since 2019, the economic contributions of hospitals have increased. In 2021, the value added, also known as GDP contributions, was 7.9% higher for Florida hospitals than the two years prior, with adjustments made for inflation, according to a report discussed by Dr. Alan Hodges from the Food & Resource Economics Department of the University of Florida IFAS.

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“Documenting hospitals’ economic contributions is incredibly important to inform debates about public investment in and support for the healthcare infrastructure,” Hodges said. “The ripple effects of hospitals’ economic activity are felt throughout the entire economy. When a hospital closes or cuts back on services, those impacts are felt not just in diminished access to healthcare but in economic activity as well.”

With that backdrop, we spoke with Dr. Ali Chahlavi, a local neurosurgeon working at Ascension St. Vincent’s Southside. Chahlavi specializes in a spinal surgery known as TOPS. The TOPS System treats specific spinal conditions, including lumbar spinal stenosis, degenerative spondylolisthesis, and related issues.

He is the second surgeon to perform the surgery in the United States. He said the procedure is unique and a draw for patients beyond Jacksonville.

“But basically what it means is you can stabilize the spine without fusion and you allow the dynamic motion of the spine to continue,” Chahlavi said. “But you can do all of that posteriorly.”

“Surgery is very scary. But so what we’re trying to do is to find other ways to make it less scary. Right? So lumbar fusion screws, rods, Right. Fusion people, every time they think about the fusion, they immobilize the segment with this procedure.”

“Now, this procedure allows you to decompress, to take the pressure off the nerve, stabilize it, but still allow the movement in the spine in a normal fashion,” Chahlavi said.

Check out the latest podcast to learn more about the procedure, and all the previous episodes of This Week in Jacksonville: Business Edition to get up to date on what’s happening.

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