Sarasota using beaches to build its medical tourism industry

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SARASOTA, Fla. - There are plenty of reasons for tourists to visit the Suncoast -- the beaches, the dining, the shopping, the….knee replacements? That's right, medical tourism is a growing industry on the Suncoast.

“We have hotels, we have condos, we have a private jet that you can charter to come down, we have limos to pick you up,” says Debra Sandberg, CEO of Florida Medical Retreat.

It sounds like destination vacation, but no. These are choices of how you may experience rehabbing from a medical treatment of procedure.

“We have beautiful places on the beach to stay, we have agreements with restaurants.” Sandberg’s company coordinates individual medical and travel itinerary services.

“Being in a place like Sarasota is relaxing, it’s enjoyable, it takes their mind off of the illness and the process that they're going through and allows them to feel like they're on a vacation, rather than being treated for cancer.” People come from all over the world for cancer treatment at Dattoli Cancer Center, says Dr. Richard Sorace. Their wall of fame is proof positive. “A lot of our patients just refer to us as a ‘radiation vacation’, because it’s more like being in a vacation in the tropics than it is getting medical treatment.”

Medical tourism holds special appeal for those undergoing rehab from surgical procedures, says orthopedic surgeon Dr. Ed Stolarski of Kennedy-White Orthopedic Center. “Well, do you want to sit in the hospital and worry about infection, clerical errors, getting the wrong medication? Or do you want to be vacationing while you're rehabbing. It’s the perfect place to come and visit.”

His patient, Nancy Gacioch, says this is where she rehabbed from her hip replacement. “Right here, right where you're sitting…right where we are sitting. I recuperated right here on the boat.”

Quality medical care and beautiful beaches are only part of the team effort that make Sarasota a successful destination for medical treatment, says Dr. Stolarski. “Partnering with the home health agencies, partnering with the rehab facilities, and the hospitals, believe it or not, has made a huge impact in the way we take care of patients that visit us for surgery.”