We are living in the age of information accessibility, in a time when booking a flight is as simple as click, click, click. We are engulfed by products and services, seemingly offered up on a platter. Businesses are tailoring their offerings to our individual needs, stepping up their game by anticipating our desires. For those who can afford it, it is an era of abundance, of limitless opportunities. Shush any environmental qualms and the world is your oyster.
Against this backdrop of excess, customers expect more, and they are willing to travel to get it. A service that ticks all your boxes is no longer enough. To stand out from the crowd, they have to tick the boxes you didn’t even know were there. So when looking for medical treatment, where previously a center with superb rankings, providing outstanding expertise and efficient, seamless care may have been enough, now, with medical tourism on the rise, the concept of excellence must stretch to the surrounding area. Gone are the days of standalone clinics as we usher in “destination medical centers”.
The DMC initiative
Expanding the scope of a medical center to include the surrounding infrastructure sounds like an undertaking of mammoth proportions. And it is.
Thankfully Lisa Clarke was on hand at the Swiss Medical Spa & Hospitality Think Tank held at EHL Swiss School of Tourism and Hospitality (SSTH) in Chur-Passugg to explain the inner workings of such a massive project. As Executive Director for the Destination Medical Center (DMC) Economic Development Agency (EDA), Clarke spearheads the ‘DMC initiative’, a 20-year, USD 5.6 billion plan – in her own words:
With Mayo Clinic at its heart, the DMC initiative will be the catalyst to position Rochester, Minnesota, as the world’s premier destination center for health and wellness; attracting people, investments and jobs to America’s City for Health and supporting the economic growth of Minnesota and its biosciences sector.
Mayo Clinic already had a stellar reputation both as an overall hospital and in several specialist fields including diabetes and endocrinology, gastroenterology, gynecology and neurology, to name just a few. Its highly specialized experts often attracted those looking for a second opinion, and with a plethora of experts working together as a coordinated team, results were often achieved far quicker than they may be elsewhere.
As Clarke explained, the project aimed to build on this strength and proactively steer the outcome as regards the infrastructure into which the clinic is embedded, rather than letting the market take over. This would both benefit the clinic and boost the local economy, with a view to creating around 30,000 new jobs and generating approximately USD 7.5 to 8 billion in new net tax revenues.
The solution was to be based on specific gaps identified in a preparatory research stage. These gaps were threefold:
#1. The experience gap:
While patients were found to be highly satisfied throughout their journey at Mayo Clinic itself, touch points in the vicinity demonstrated room for improvement.
#2. The quality gap:
Members of the local community were found to be less satisfied with the activities and offerings available in Rochester than patients were. Residents wanting more suggested there was scope for the area to be made more attractive to top talent prospects.
#3. The opportunity gap:
Residents were found to have high median incomes, but to spend less in their hometown than similarly wealthy residents of similarly sized cities. Add to this the fact that Mayo Clinic patients spend only 30% of their time in treatment, and it would appear Rochester could claim a far greater share of the pie.
The vision in all its glory
How to plug these gaps? Clarke’s team asked themselves: “What can we change, add or take away to optimize the outcome?” Their answers led them to define eight areas of focus as a guiding light for the project:
- livable city, retail and dining
- hotel and hospitality
- entertainment, arts and civic culture
- commercial research and technology
- health and wellness
- learning and environment
- sports, recreation and nature
Incorporating all these elements would transform Rochester altogether, making it accessible and inviting for patients, companions, visitors, employees and residents alike. The transportation network would be overhauled, improving public transport and circulation while leaving room for bicycles. The walkable mile from one end of downtown to the other and linear park would encourage patients to get out and about, reaping the health benefits of a leisurely stroll. Drawing in private investment, innovative start-ups and established businesses, ‘Discovery Square’ would become the ‘economic engine’ of DMC. This area would bring in further activity in the life sciences field, while also providing much-needed housing for the respective employees, along with those working at the clinic and in local retail and gastronomy.
The area aptly named the ‘Heart of the City’ would boast 110 trees and quirky artistic features pulling together life inside and out of Mayo Clinic. It would host prototyping festivals, encouraging people to get involved. Outdoor furniture would be tested to ensure the greatest possible ease for the visually and hearing impaired and wheelchair users. Hotels would be designed to accommodate guests undergoing treatment or providing support to loved ones. Restaurants and coffee shops would tailor their cuisine to their recovery-conscious guests. All in all, a cheerful, family atmosphere would be cultivated, providing a healthy, vibrant environment for those wishing to escape the reality of their illness for a while.
Taking challenges in their stride
This vision is now well on its way to becoming a reality, but, as you can imagine, an undertaking of this size is neither cheap, nor a one-woman job. Both overcoming the legislative hurdles and raising the cash could easily have thrown a spanner in the works. Instead, the Minnesota legislature recognized the compelling public interest in securing Rochester’s reputation as a preeminent global healthcare destination and approved the legislation that created the DMC initiative in 2013. An unheard-of success, the bill passed in one go.
The expenditure, however, would be too much for the relatively small tax base to cover. The project would require both public and private funding and rely upon partnerships to bring it to fruition. The carefully compiled development plan addressed these issues, binding Mayo Clinic itself to contribute USD 3.5 billion over a 20-year period, earmarking USD 585 million in public funding, and foreseeing an additional USD 2.1 billion in private investment to be secured by the DMC EDA.
The success of the project is being rounded off thanks to additional ‘experience priorities’ that seek to shape visitors’ experience from the moment they step off the plane. Journey mapping has been used to identify visitors’ needs, any stressors or hardships they encounter along the way and ensuring their experience is dotted with joyful moments.
This holistic approach to the guest experience is a pillar of understanding at EHL, and it is deeply rooted in Swiss history. Since the late 19th century, people have flocked to Switzerland’s mountains, lakes, waterfalls and valleys, thirsty for the all-encompassing feeling of nature. A place to heal the body and nurture the mind in natural thermal springs, to find inspiration in the majestic beauty of the Alps, or to seek refuge in the peace and quiet of a simple wild-flower meadow with the ring of cowbells in the distance, Switzerland is – no less than – the original DMC.