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May 18, 2014

Hospitals reach out to attract affluent immigrants

HOUSTON — The menu includes pork or chicken dumplings, fried rice or chicken congee soup with jasmine rice and ginger. It’s an enviable repast that diners take in bed — hospital beds.

When it comes to ordering meals at Houston’s Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital, immigrant patients can choose from dishes similar to those they might eat at home: dumplings or noodles for Asian palates, curry to accommodate Indian tastes.

These and other choices at medical facilities nationwide reflect intense competition to attract one of health care’s most desirable demographics — affluent, foreign-born patients with generous insurance coverage or cash to pay out of pocket.

The menu is just part of the outreach. The Houston hospital also has redecorated patient rooms, subscribed to foreign-language TV channels and even changed the color of hospital paperwork to reflect cultural preferences.

Hospitals “are recognizing that they have to begin to gear their services and products toward more minority populations,” said Rick DeFilippi, chairman of the board for the Institute for Diversity in Health Management, a subsidiary of the American Hospital Association.

The effort to cater to minority and immigrant groups began decades ago in inner-city hospitals, but it’s now becoming crucial to private institutions’ quest for paying customers. Immigrants from China, Vietnam and India have median household incomes above the national average of about $51,300 — with immigrants from India earning more than double, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Memorial Hermann began its initiative in 2009 by reaching out to Vietnamese and Chinese patients, for whom language was a major barrier.

The program was so successful it was expanded to include South Asian patients, many from India and Pakistan. A new menu includes four types of curry, and the hospital now allows for the kind of large family gatherings many U.S. hospitals frown on.

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