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Costa Rica and the Philippines Look to Cash in More From Growing Medical Tourism Industry

Posted on Mar 18, 2013 by Sergio Ulloa ()

As medical tourism becomes increasingly popular across different continents, Costa Rica is preparing to host the fourth Medical Travel International Business Summit 2013, which will be held from from April 24th to 26th. There are already about 15 countries and some 250 medical tourism businesses that have committed to attend and participate. Many organizers are saying this is a prime chance for Latin American health care companies to open up partnership opportunities with other North American companies. In a press release from the Council for the International Promotion of Costa Rica Medicine (PROMED) and the Costa Rica Tourism Board (ICT), it was cited that more than 50 million U.S. residents do not have health insurance, adding that Costa Rica's health care system ranks fourth in the region in regards to quality. The release adds that Costa Rica has many things to offer to the medical tourism industry with its close proximity to the U.S. And Canada and its reasonable cost of health care. According to "International Living" magazine, Costa Rica is one of the top five retirement destinations across the world, and the hosting of the medical tourism summit will undoubtedly help promote the country and the region in terms of affordable yet quality healthcare. "Costa Rica has gained a broader awareness of the potential retiree market in terms of generating dollar incomes, health expenditures, food, tourism and other services. With attractive pricing on health care, security, housing and tourism activities, Costa Rica can become a favorite destination for thousands of North Americans and Europeans who are looking for a better quality of life at a better price," PROMED President Jorge Cortés said. Data from 2011 shows that the country received 48,000 medical tourists which brought in about $338 million in revenue, according to PROMED. Some of the more popular areas for medical tourism in Costa Rica are dentistry, orthopedic care, plastic surgery and preventative medicine. Across the globe, the Philippines has also been asserting their position as an up-and-coming player in the medical tourism industry. The country already trains and educates many health care professionals that often go to the West to seek employment. In February, Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez held a briefing to announce the cooperation of his department with the Department of Health so that together, the departments could better showcase the medical services that the Philippines has to offer. Through this initiative, Jimenez hopes that the country, with its beautiful natural landmarks and beaches, will be able to compete with other established countries in the region that offer medical tourism, including Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia. The initiative comes at a good time, as the region's health care industry has seen significant growth, particularly in medical tourism. A report from Frost & Sullivan, which provides customer-based market research and analysis, growth strategy and consulting, shows that medical tourism is one of the top-five growth sectors for the healthcare industry in the Asia Pacific region. They cite that this is due to the rising affluence in the region and increasing demand for quality healthcare. The Philippines is trying harder than ever to capitalize on this trend. Jimenez noted that there is a large demand for dentistry, orthodontics, cancer treatment, cataract surgery and other procedures that are much less expensive in the Philippines than in other countries overseas. Health care services could be a prominent tourism package, and the government is looking for ways to promote it, he added. The Philippines may be late in the game in terms of capitalizing on its potential for medical tourism, but they do have a large number of highly capable medical professionals and high-quality facilities. In order to boost the medical tourism industry, the government is focusing on engaging in bilateral government agreements in the area of medical health exchanges and partnerships between hospitals and foreign institutions. Another way they are working to build up its prominence in the industry is by working with foreign referral companies and doctors to attract patients. For the time being, the major target of the initiative will be overseas Filipinos who live in the U.S. and Canada and markets in Australia and other island countries, such as South Korea and Japan. Competition to earn 'health dollars' is stiff, however, with more than 50 countries around the world offering varying levels and different kinds of health tourism services. There is also a lot of competition from nearby countries in the region, which like the Philippines, have much to offer in terms of high quality, affordable care set in the backdrop of pristine beaches and scenery. Areas where the Philippines may stand out from the competition lie in elective surgeries, such as joint replacement such s hips or knees, prostate surgery or coronary bypasses. The Philippines has a strong advantage in this area and has a staggering difference in terms of cost as compared to the U.S., which is one of the most expensive places for health care in the world. This initiative to attract medical tourists "comes at a time when Filipino doctors and medical facilities are gaining greater recognition for providing health care services that are on par with international standards," according to a report by Pacific Strategies and Assessments, a country risk firm headquartered in Manila. Many of the basic components needed to expand medical tourism are already in place. The Philippines, according to the PSA report, "boasts several state-of-the-art medical centers that provide advanced medical procedures such as stem-cell therapy by western-educated Filipino doctors." The report adds that many of the drawbacks that the country faces as it tries to develop its medical tourism are systematic to the Philippines. Some of these issues include poor infrastructure, hostility toward foreign investment, a rigid labor structure and the inability for the government to implement a policy that helps foreign interests. Another issue is lack of relationships with international insurance companies that can direct and encourage customers to look to the Philippines for treatment. "Partly due to the country's lack of accreditation with larger insurers, experts on medical tourism say that the dearth of international private insurance in the Philippines is intentionally designed to protect the local insurance industry," according to the report. This does create a hindrance for international insurance companies that encourage or promote their customers to go to the Philippines for medical procedures. A final problem the country faces is the high number of nurses and doctors that go to the west for work, as the salaries are much higher. For instance, a trained physician from a Filipino medical school is able to earn more money as a nurse in the U.S. than as a doctor in the Philippines. Despite these setbacks, the Philippine government is showing its commitment to trying to build up the country's medical tourism field. Many statistics show that the medical tourism industry is quite sizable. Patients Beyond Borders projects that the industry may be worth up to $20 billion, with the average patient spending about $3,000-5,000 per surgery (including all medically related costs). They predict that about 750,000 Americans will travel outside their country to receive medical care in 2013. Furthermore, those same sources say that the industry is growing, and growing strongly. Patients Beyond Borders also estimate the worldwide medical tourism market is growing at a rate of 25-35%. If the Philippines, or other countries, can tap into that market, it may prove very lucrative.
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