Programs Establish MU as Destination for Health Care

With signature clinical programs, emerging services and plans for future growth, MU Health is putting Columbia on the map

Photo of Kasia Bulik at the Mizzou BioJoint® Center.
After traveling from Poland, Kasia Bulik (right) found a second home in Columbia, and a second family at the Mizzou BioJoint® Center. Bulik is one of many patients who has journeyed afar to receive care at the center.

May 30, 2017

For decades, University of Missouri Health Care has served as a leading provider of medical care for patients in the mid-Missouri area. But now, MU Health is on a mission to make Columbia a destination medical community, not only for the residents of central Missouri but also for potential patients from other states and countries around the world.

“If we have the right programs, people will travel,” says Jonathan Curtright, interim CEO and chief operating officer for MU Health Care. “Medical destination communities are not constrained to certain geographic locations, warm weather or large populations. The key is offering signature clinical programs to patients that they could not receive in other parts of the state, nation and, in some instances, the globe.”

Curtright cites other medical destination communities such as the Cleveland Clinic and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, as examples of health systems that successfully attract patients from across the globe with their specialty programs. MU Health Care’s oncology, orthopaedic surgery, women’s health and cardiology services could have similar success, he says.

“MU Health Care specialists currently sees patients from every county in the state,” Curtright says. “In addition, one of our specialty signature programs, the Mizzou BioJoint® offered at the Missouri Orthopaedic Institute, has attracted patients from three countries and 18 states just in its first year.”

In August, Columbia Mayor Brian Treece announced the formation of a Mayor’s Task Force on Medical Tourism.The task force, which includes representatives from MU Health Care, including Curtright, and leaders from Ellis Fischel Cancer Center and the Mizzou BioJoint® Center, is designed to position Columbia as a destination medical center in the Midwest and United States.

“Health care is a major component of Columbia’s growing economy,” Treece says. “Creating the necessary infrastructure to support continued growth of Columbia’s health care providers and optimize the patient experience in Columbia is a top priority of mine.”

Curtright and Mayor Treece have similar goals for the task force and the Columbia community.

“Our vision of Columbia as a destination medical community, when fulfilled, will advance the health of all Missourians and beyond and strengthen the financial health of our city, our region and the state,” Curtright says.

For Curtright, the shared vision between MU Health and the city will be a huge factor as they work toward bringing it to fruition.

“Having the mayor’s support on this initiative is very important,” Curtright says. “Once people hear our vision from business leaders, political leaders, in addition to health care leaders, it will show others how serious we are about Columbia’s potential for medical tourism.”

Leading in Regenerative Orthopaedics

This spring, Kasia Bulik, 28, flew more than 10 hours from Warsaw, Poland, to Columbia, Missouri, to undergo a complex biological surgery at the Missouri Orthopaedic Institute’s Mizzou BioJoint® Center.

Bulik, who was injured in a motorbike incident, was referred to several doctors overseas before she saw James Stannard, MD, director of the Missouri Orthopaedic Institute. Stannard is internationally recognized for his research and unique techniques to improve biological joint replacements.

Bulik stayed in Columbia for a month after her procedure, which gave her and her family time to experience the city’s hospitality. She even got engaged to her fiancé at a popular Columbia restaurant within 10 minutes of her hotel and the Missouri Orthopaedic Institute. Bulik, who was on crutches for a year and a half after her accident before traveling to Missouri for her procedure, says she’s excited to walk down the aisle crutch free.

“I really felt like the Mizzou team treated me like family from the day I arrived,” Bulik said. “I still stay in touch with them regularly as they continue monitoring my progress.”

To meet growing patient needs, MU Health Care began construction in June 2015 on a $40 million, four-story expansion of the Missouri Orthopaedic Institute. The expansion, expected to be complete by spring 2017, will feature the new Thompson Center for Regenerative Orthopaedics, focused on orthopaedic research, on the center’s fourth floor.

The Thompson Foundation, created by William and Nancy Thompson, pledged $3 million to the MU School of Medicine to create the Thompson Laboratory for Regenerative Orthopaedics. James Cook, DVM, director of the Orthopaedic Research Division at MU and member of the Mayor’s Task Force on Medical Tourism, says the gift will create more unique opportunities to provide world-class care for patients in Missouri and beyond.

“This amazing gift will create a center of discovery, translational and transformative research and clinical applications,” Cook says. “Because the Thompsons have provided this incredibly unique opportunity for us to create a world-class laboratory right in the heart of our clinical orthopaedic center, we will be able to more efficiently and effectively improve health care.”

State-Designated Cancer Center

MU Health Care’s Ellis Fischel Cancer Center is the second oldest cancer center in the country and has been designated Missouri’s official state cancer center. Led by Kevin Staveley-O’Carroll, MD, PhD, director of Ellis Fischel Cancer Center and member of the Mayor’s Task Force on Medical Tourism, Ellis Fischel is the only cancer center in the region to provide screening, diagnosis and treatment all under one roof.

Cancer specialists at Ellis Fischel care for patients from nearly every county in the state through inpatient and outpatient services in Columbia. Ellis Fischel also is the only cancer center in Missouri that provides clinical trials.

“What really sets our cancer center apart is our multidisciplinary collaboration efforts and navigation services,” Staveley-O’Carroll says. “It’s hard for most healthy people to navigate through complex medical systems and even harder for older individuals who have just been diagnosed with cancer. That’s why we are investing in navigators to help our patients get through the process.”

Staveley-O’Carroll says that because Ellis Fischel is Missouri’s designated cancer center, most of the center’s patients are not from Columbia.

“Our patients generally receive chemotherapy or radiation treatments from medical or radiation oncologists closer to their homes and then travel to us for their more complex needs like surgeries or clinical trials,” he says.

To further serve their patients, Staveley-O’Carroll is currently organizing eight multidisciplinary navigation teams, each focused on a specific type of cancer. He says the navigation teams will be equipped with specialists in a range of different areas, including physical therapy, palliative care and nutrition, as a way to offer the best comprehensive services to all patients.

As part of the Mayor’s Task Force on Medical Tourism, Staveley-O’Carroll says his role includes ensuring that navigators work seamlessly with local hotel owners to guarantee that patients who travel from across the state and beyond for their procedures and clinical trials get the care they need.