Medical tourism is a highly profitable global phenomenon with tremendous potential for further growth. As an expert in the field could you talk us through this new global trend?
Medical tourism is the segment seeing the most growth within the health industry, of 25% a year. It represents at least 2.5% of travelers per plane, and the figures differ depending on the source. The Medical Tourism Association (MTA), which is based in the US, claims that about $60 billion is generated by medical tourism. That includes not only medical care, per se, but also odontology and wellness at facilities such as spas. Medical tourism is growing rapidly because the world population is aging and becoming more affluent at rates that surpass the availability of quality health care resources. Additionally, the long waiting lists in countries like the US and Canada, and the high cost of medical treatments are problematic—the leading cause of bankruptcy for individuals in the US is health problems, making up 50% of cases.
The Government has been focused on developing the tourism industry, but will this make a difference in the medical tourism segment?
Medical Tourism is a segment that helps to grow and diversify the offer. The key factors are quality, safety, certifications, JCI and ISQUA accreditation, and health centers of excellence. Not everybody can be a candidate to offer medical tourism services, as international criteria must be met. First, you have to comply with local criteria, such that the center needs to be licensed by the Ministry of Public Health and the professionals should be part of the medical college and their medical specialty society. In addition, the hospital should be certified and have international departments that manage the entire patient experience, and optimally accredited by the joint commission international (JCI). In the Dominican Republic, there are three centers working towards the accreditation process (Hospital General de la Plaza de la Salud, HOMS, and CEDIMAT).
Along with the above, what opportunities do you see in the Dominican Republic?
Medical tourism brings opportunities for raising the bar on quality, and the need for certifications and accreditations will positively impact locals and health indicators. This will also create new jobs and attract foreign investment to the country. On a larger scale, legal security is required such that if a foreign company is going to invest in the country, their investment is secure in the long term. That is an important area for us to work on. Another area of importance at present is public and private alliances. The Center for Exportation in the Dominican Republic (CEI-RD) has an initiative to create an investment exequatur with the ministry of health and Dominican Medical College, namely a license that international health professionals could obtain to practice medicine in the Dominican Republic. This initiative would consist of investors coming to the Dominican Republic to establish health centers of excellence. They might well already have a special permit, but first, it has to meet established criteria, preferably regarding technology that we lack in the country, which will promote knowledge transfer, and sustained medical education, creating employment and opportunities for the local community. Thirdly, it should not create unequal competition for local physicians. Essentially, the establishing of international centers of excellence is geared at helping to differentiate us in the medical tourism industry and also raise the bar on quality and top-notch procedures.