Nearshore Americas

Medical Tourism: Where Latin America has an Edge over Asia

As many as 23 million US citizens will seek medical treatment overseas by the year 2017 (spending close to $80 billion), and as much as 50% of those treatments will take place in Latin America.
Despite President Obama’s remarks today about the need to shore up the US healthcare system, there is little doubt that an increasing number of citizens will take advantage of what is seen as inexpensive and reliable health care services south of the border.
With such a huge upside, it’s no wonder that medical tourism development leaders in Mexico, Costa Rica, Brazil, Argentina, Guatemala, Colombia, Chile, and El Salvador are looking to get a stake in this growing market.
So what does make Latin America more enticing than say perhaps Thailand, or other Asian locations? The Medical Tourism Assocation magazine recently posted an article pitting Latin America against Asia. It explains that while Asia has more population and is more entrenched as a medical tourism leader, Latin America has some great qualities as well.
For example, some of the strongest factors in favor of Latin America include:

  • The proximity of most medical tourism destinations are within a reasonable flight from North America.
  • Most Latin American countries have a favorable exchange rate which leads to lower cost good and services.
  • Many Latin American countries have high rates of fluency in both English and Spanish.
  • Latin America has a booming tourism market with many scenic locations and various types of geography (beaches to mountains) to choose from.
  • Latin Americans are known for their overall friendly and family-oriented culture (they also boast the hosting of a variety of world-renowned celebrations).
  • The wonderful climate in Latin America destinations is deemed to be conducive to recovery.
  • Services and procedures such as: rehabilitation, retirement, dental, cancer treatments, low-cost pharmaceuticals, reproductive medicine, and diabetic care.

Drawbacks include:

  • Many medical tourists are either ill informed or fearful of travelling to Latin America because of a reputation of violence, corruption, and poverty/disease.
  • Lack of standardized quality measurement and quality ranking systems.
  • Difficulty in seeking legal remedy in the event of malpractice.
  • Major insurance carriers have yet to promote or widely cover medical treatments in Latin America.

Several Latin American countries are trying to serve too wide a swath of the market to maintain a sustainable industry.
The business opportunity includes:

  • Large, growing population of Hispanics in North America that are not opposed to traveling to Latin America to receive healthcare.
  • History of Americans and Canadians receiving healthcare and other low-cost services in Latin America.
  • Possibility of receiving funding by U.S. or Canadian government-sponsored programs.
  • Many Americans can travel freely back-and-forth and in some cases without Visas as a result of free trade agreements (e.g., NAFTA, DR-CAFTA, etc.).
  • Some governmental initiatives supporting medical tourism.
  • Strong willingness of North American firms to reduce healthcare costs.

The article concludes with:
“As these regions continue to mature in their understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, we expect that regions and individual countries will find their ‘niche’ areas in which they excel.  The Asian region has the advantage of greater populations (several billion in the region alone) and a more ‘mature’ medical tourism market.  Whereas, the Latin American market has an advantage of being in close proximity to over 350 million North Americans and a fast growing and fairly youthful Hispanic population.
The major weakness that many countries in both regions currently have, in our humble opinion, is not understanding their core areas of competence and taking advantage of these by differentiating themselves in the market place.  However, both regions have many amazing opportunities to grow their economies in the near term through medical tourism.”

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