John Benson / Saludify
The high cost of healthcare has created the lucrative phenomenon of medical tourism.
An IPK International survey revealed roughly 3 percent of the world’s population travels to foreign countries for medical treatment, while Patients Beyond Borders, which publishes international medical travel guidebooks, reported the medical tourism industry is a $40 billion a year business.
In the United States, the impetus behind medical traveling goes beyond saving a penny. For the Latino community especially, the attraction of traveling to Latin America is to not only spend less but also peace of mind dealing with Spanish-speaking doctors and quality facilities.
As for why people are seeking out Latin America, the answer is basically, why not? Procedures are much more affordable and with proper research, many quality facilities and accredited doctors can be found.
There is tubal ligation reversal surgery in Mexico, buttock implants in Costa Rica, chin and breast implants in Colombia, assisted fertility and gastric bypass in Argentina, and dental work in El Salvador. More so, people are also visiting Latin America for cancer treatments, cheap pharmaceuticals, diabetic care and rehab.
In fact, Patients Beyond Borders reports Mexico now attracts more than a million patients a year, many of whom are Hispanics from California, Arizona and Texas. It’s this proximity to North America that makes Latin America’s medical tourism so attractive. Other factors include favorable exchange rates, bilingual healthcare officials, friendly cultures, tropical climates and exotic locations allowing for relaxing and scenic recovery time.
Still, there are those who are fearful of traveling to a foreign country for a medical procedure. They often have misconceptions about third world standards of living, poverty, disease, violence and more. Something else that may keep them from experiencing medical tourism is the threat of malpractice without the U.S. legal system offering protection.
The truth is many healthcare providers in Latin America are internationally accredited by the Joint Commission International (JCI). The doctors are bilingual, with many of them U.S. board certified or trained in the states. Some healthcare providers also have ties to stateside medical institutions.
Here’s a look at popular Latin American destinations for medical tourism, according to Healthbase:
Costa Rica offers services in various departments of medicine including orthopedics, bariatrics, ophthamology, dermatology, plastic surgery and dentistry. Savings can be as much as 70 percent or more. For dental work, The Costa Rica Dental Team can do any procedure from teeth whitening to full mouth reconstruction. And, they have their own dental lab.
Panama is Central America’s most industrialized country. Its medical tourism sector is growing rapidly with upwards of 50 percent in savings. Also, its use of the U.S. dollar as currency makes its friendly for Americans. Many doctors are bilingual and board certified.
Mexico is popular for dental and medical tourism due to cheap surgeries, which are not covered by American insurance companies. Also growing in Mexico is laser eye surgery, dermatology and cardiology with savings ranging from 30 to 70 percent. Many people from the US travel to the border town of Los Algodones for dental implants full mouth reconstruction by professionally trained dentists, often with degrees from universities in the United States.
Brazil and Colombia are among the most popular destinations for plastic surgery. With many accredited and awarded doctors, costs are usually cut in half, even adding the travel arrangements. In fact, according to Bloomberg News, Brazil is the sixth most popular destination for medical traveling, with more than 4,500 licensed cosmetic surgeons.
Looking ahead, Latin American countries hoping to expand medical traveling may follow the path of Costa Rica, where earlier this year the International Medical Travel and Business Summit was held.
“Costa Rica has become the premier destination for medical travel and tourism in the Western hemisphere,” said PROMED [The Council for the International Promotion of Costa Rica Medicine] Director Massimo Manzi, in a press release. “Our biggest challenge is educating the consumer. The Summit is a marvelous opportunity to highlight our medical providers and to showcase the incredible opportunities that exist by placing buyers and sellers of medical tourism together.”