Leaders aim to turn Southeast Michigan into 'health care destination'

Posted on March 21, 2013

Falak Khattak’s face revealed she was weary from pain and 24 hours of travel as she was prepped for surgery at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak Wednesday, but her eyes were hopeful.

The Pakistani mother of six had flown 7,000 miles from her home in Islamabad to start treatment with Dr. Kenneth Peters, chief of urology and director of Beaumont’s Women’s Urology Center.

Khattak suffers from severe pelvic pain and has to urinate at least 26 times a day. She’s among thousands who travel to southeastern Michigan annually for cutting edge therapies, new surgical techniques and clinical trials.

It’s a growing trend that area leaders, including Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and Wayne County Executive Bob Ficano, think has potential to spur economic growth in the region.

Making southeastern Michigan a “health care destination” will be a focus of Patterson’s keynote address today at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s 2013 Health Care Leaders Forum in Detroit.

“I’ve been harping on the opportunity for establishing southeast Michigan as a (medical) destination since my emerging sectors initiative kicked off in 2004,” Patterson said this week. “At some point in time we’re going to have to join forces with Wayne and Washtenaw (counties) and pool our resources, to market southeast Michigan as a region for excellent (health care).”

Khattak, 57, sought treatment in Pakistan, India and the United Kingdom before reading about Peters and Beaumont’s Women’s Urology Center on the Internet.

“For what I have, he’s supposed to be the best,” Khattak said of Peters. “I’ve been in so much pain these past five or six years, I’m prepared to travel anywhere.”

She came to Beaumont with her husband and their twin 7-year-old sons, Sharez and Hamza.

“We’ve got to get her better now, ’cause she came all this way,” Peters said to his medical team as they wheeled Khattak into the operating room.

Peters performed diagnostic procedures, including cystoscopy, an endoscopy of the urinary bladder via the urethra. He discovered her bladder is riddled with ulcers, and administered “trigger point” injections of steroids and anesthetics to relieve muscle spasms.

“Today was to get an understanding of what is going on,” Peters said. “She’ll be in the center for four to six weeks.

“In the past year we’ve had patients from 17 states and five different countries, because nobody’s managing pelvic pain.”

Patterson launched Medical Mainstreet, an initiative to market Oakland County’s medical resources, in 2009. There are 4,300 health care and life sciences businesses in Oakland County, said Bill Mullan, the county’s communications director.

Ficano said he is taking Patterson’s lead in launching an initiative to encourage “medical tourism” in Wayne County and across the region, an idea he talked about in his State of the County address.

“What I’m hoping we can do is make it (the region) a destination that can compete with areas such as the Cleveland Clinic and the Mayo Clinic, and what we should be able to promote is our diversity,” Ficano said Wednesday.

“If you’re from the Middle East, culturally you should be more comfortable here than anywhere else in the United States.”

Patrick Anderson, principal and CEO of Anderson Economic Group, said he’s done three studies of health care-related resources in southeastern Michigan, and they are vast.

“Southeast Michigan is already a powerhouse in life sciences, medical devices, cutting edge therapies and pharmaceutical innovations,” Anderson said.

“Where medical tourism comes in is those cutting edge therapies. It’s the ability to attract people who need treatments that are unusual and difficult to come by.”

Beaumont Health System’s President and CEO Gene Michalski said patients already come to the area for clinical trials and cutting edge therapies.

“We have some of the most effective, high-quality health care in the country,” he said.

Karen Bouffard, The Detroit News.