Zack Jordan and Justin Avila work in one of the specialized rooms in the Gdovin biology laboratory. Photo by Scott Ball.
Zack Jordan and Justin Avila work in one of the specialized rooms in the Gdovin biology laboratory. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Around 150 people convened Thursday to listen to an economic impact study on San Antonio’s healthcare and bioscience industry at the Omni San Antonio Hotel at the Colonnade. The event was hosted by the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.

The study, conducted by Trinity University professors Richard V. Butler and Mary E. Stefl, focused on 2015 data which highlights the economic impact that this industry has on the city – an impact that has steadily grown for years.

From left: Trinity professors Richard V. Butler and Mary E. Stefl explain the results of the Healthcare and Bioscience Economic Impact study. Credit: Rocio Guenther / San Antonio Report

“Health care and bioscience are the pillars that we can build San Antonio’s future on,” Butler told the Rivard Report. “We need to focus on growing jobs that pay well in those sectors – it’s arguably one of San Antonio’s biggest industries. (It’s important) to establish an identity that isn’t just tourism and the military.”

What sets San Antonio apart from other cities are its unique assets in the healthcare and bioscience industry, said San Antonio Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Richard Perez, before introducing Butler and Stefl.

“We have grown over the last 25 years as a leader in various areas of the industry (such as) military medical research – saving lives in the battlefield and here in San Antonio – and collaboration research,” he said. “San Antonio is no doubt a city of science and health care.”

Data shows that the industry has doubled in size since 2005, so “there are no zig zags here,” Butler said. The numbers show steady growth, he said, which is a positive trend for the whole economy. In addition, more than 172,000 people, which make up 1/6 of employed San Antonians, work in the healthcare and bioscience industry.

“Employment is up, with total payroll of almost $9 billion, which is up 14% from years ago,” Butler said. “These are good jobs, the average salary is 11% higher for all of San Antonio (and) that edge has been consistent over time.”

Stefl provided a closer look at the different sectors in the healthcare industry, explaining how she and Butler organized everything into two groups. The first sector is direct healthcare services, which includes care provided in places such as hospitals, physicians’ and dentists’ offices, and nursing homes. The second sector is related industries, which complement and support the provision of medical and healthcare services. Related industries include insurance, medical equipment, pharmaceuticals, social services, and research as well as education.“The economic impact of those two sectors over time (is) steady, so this is a boring report,” Stefl quipped. “The good news just keeps getting better on both sides … (there has been) healthy growth since 1990.”

There is a $21.9 billion impact in healthcare services versus $15.1 billion in related industries, Stefl said. In related sectors, she added, the “biggest piece of the pie” is pharmaceuticals, with research and education coming in second.

“(In addition, the) economic impact of physicians and hospitals has grown over time,” Stefl added as she pointed to several graphs on the projection screen. “If we look at 2009, it has doubled on the hospital side.”

A San Antonio Chamber of Commerce spokesperson said the data presented by Butler and Stefl can be used to market the city and inform elected officials about how important the healthcare industry is to San Antonio.

After Butler and Stefl presented the impact study results, Christus Santa Rosa Health System Strategic Marketing Vice President Preston Gee informed the audience about consumerism changes in health care. Gee enumerated factors that have dramatically changed the way the healthcare industry works. To begin, Gee emphasized that the forces driving consumerism today are not that influenced or impacted by politics.

“Health care and medicine will likely be much more market-facing than ever before in the years ahead,” he said. “The five forces driving consumerism right now are the internet, economics, new competition, health insurance exchanges, and Millennials.”

The internet made the democratization of American medicine possible, Gee said, and until it came along, medical knowledge and information was pretty cloistered and difficult to obtain. Today, many patients can get incredible information about their specific situation or illness with only a few clicks. This, in turn, has made consumers much more informed.When it comes to underlying economics, Gee said, people are much more engaged and selective as consumers of health care, so this had made things much more competitive for companies. In addition, Walmart, CVS, Walgreens, and online scheduling services for physician appointments have made competition even more cut throat.

“This has forced the health sector to up the game and understand consumers better,” Gee said. “These other companies know how to attract consumers and to keep them. All this will increase, Walmart is even thinking about (providing) MRI‘s in the future – this is a big threat.”

Millennials are another factor that have changed the way the industry works, Gee said. He highlighted how this population favors technology, ease, convenience, and information, all of which have helped make things much more individualized for consumers.

When it comes to health insurance exchanges, “at least part of it, could go away – public interest exchanges.” Gee said. “Trump, all throughout the campaign, said he’ll repeal and replace Obamacare. But companies are doing kind of the same thing that the government is steering people into by having them get money (with which) they can then go pick up their own insurance.”

Gee believes that private exchanges are a huge movement, especially in the business world. Even though public exchanges might go away, he said, private ones will ramp up.

”Think about it from a business standpoint,” he said. “Do they want to be involved in the business of health care? No, they’ll give their employees $10,000 or whatever it is and say ‘It’s you – you make the decision.’”

Consumerism of health care will increase, Gee added, and “the big three” in health care are access, quality, and cost. Access has increased, and with consumerism and ratings, there is much more transparency when it comes to quality, he said.

“If you’re a pessimist, at least you say, ‘We live in interesting times,’” Gee said with a laugh. “But if you are an an optimist, you look at health care and say, ‘These times, like all times, are the best times.’”

Rocío Guenther

Rocío Guenther worked as a bilingual reporter and editorial assistant for the Rivard Report from June 2016 to October 2017. She is originally from Guadalajara, Mexico and holds a bachelor's in English...