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Providing Affordability And Quality

Opportunities for medical tourism growth in Latin America

Wendy Chan and Mark Brady  Oct 15, 2009

With healthcare costs skyrocketing in America and other nations, markets across Latin America offers opportunities for growth in the field of medical tourism. Brazil, Colombia, and Chile have a strong stake in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology markets, serving as bases for the research and development and manufacturing stages for companies such as Pfizer and Merck. Panama, Mexico, Colombia, and other Latin American countries have already begun to explore the partnership between the lodging and healthcare industries through medical tourism, constructing major, well-regarded hospital facilities and attracting high-quality hotel and resort developments to accommodate guests and patients.

Affordability is a primary driver of medical tourism, especially in a down economy. Even in countries where basic procedures are covered, elective procedures like cosmetic surgery are often very expensive and not funded by either insurance or the government. According to market research, rhinoplasty and other surgical procedures conducted in Latin America can cost approximately one-third the amount patients are paying in the United States. These cost savings even take into account lodging while abroad and travel expenses to and from the patient’s home country.

Medical tourists are also concerned about the quality of service, facilities, and medical practitioners in a foreign country; hence, a desire for lower costs does not necessarily come at the expense of quality of care. Associations such as the Joint Commission International (JCI) and the Medical Tourism Association are working toward certifying and accrediting international hospitals that serve foreign patients.

Hospital Punta Pacífica in Panama has partnered with Johns Hopkins Medicine International to provide world-renowned collaborative research and medical services for the benefit of patients. Colombia is gaining worldwide prominence in cardiovascular and transplant surgery and often receives patients from abroad who cannot obtain such quality care within their home countries.

Certain major Latin American markets are showing relatively strong RevPAR levels, even in the midst of the global economic downturn. Revenue growth at Brazilian resorts, for example, has strengthened since 2008. This is partly attributable to exchange rate conversions and continued growth in average rate, which has noted sharp declines in many international markets.

Although occupancy levels are down in some Latin American markets, hotel development projects are still surfacing in countries such as Colombia, Mexico, and Brazil. Hotel investors in populous markets throughout Latin America have shown increasing interest in mixed-used and adaptive reuse developments. In Colombia, mixed-use hotel development projects are surfacing along the northern coast and in major cities such as Bogot√°, Cartagena, and Barranquilla.

In addition to cost savings, quality of care, and accessibility, many medical tourists are searching for exotic destinations where they can readily obtain consults with medical practitioners during their time of recovery. Hence, beach and mountain destinations, as well as places rich in cultural history are a major draw for patients. The Johns Hopkins-affiliated Hospital Punta Pacifica in Panama City, Panama, offers lodging adjacent to its world-class hospital facilities. The hotel accommodations allow guests to recover in a setting more akin to a high-end hotel than a hospital ward. The hotel serves as a liaison between the guest and the hospital by providing patients with additional amenities that include concierge services, trip planning, tourist attraction packages, and translation services. More than 25 percent of the hospital’s patients arrive from the United States.

The unique value proposition presented by medical tourism demands that the healthcare and lodging industries work in unison to attract guests/patients. Based on the number of development projects currently in the pipeline in Latin America, investors see the potential for growth, and many markets throughout Central and South America remain untapped.

Patients seeking outbound medical tourism need reputable lodging and healthcare options that ease the burdens of medical procedures and the recovery process. In this capacity, Latin American hotels act as a liaison with local hospitals and doctors to provide cost-effective, accessible, quality care for the medical tourist as a patient, and a lodging environment that caters to his or her needs as a guest.

Opportunities for medical tourism growth in Latin America
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