Mexico continues to see a large volume of visitors seeking medical treatments. // © 2015 Thinkstock
As one of Mexico's best-connected cities, Cancun may see an increase in medical tourism in the future. // © 2015 Thinkstock
Health care reform or not, many U.S. travelers head to other countries for medical, dental and cosmetic procedures.
“For less than the price of a procedure at my dentist back home, I was able to get excellent service in Mexico, and even with the cost of hotel and airfare, it was still cheaper,” said Mark Porter, a Chicago resident who recently made two trips to Puerto Vallarta for a series of dental treatments. “It’s like getting a vacation thrown in for the price of a procedure.”
The number of visitors from the U.S. and Canada who visit Mexico for elective and non-elective treatments continues to rise, according to Servando Acuna-Braun, president of Medical Travel Under the Sun, a company that markets medical tourism in Cancun, Riviera Maya and Cozumel.
“Today, there are three types of medical destinations in Mexico,” Acuna-Braun said, noting that they fall into three main categories: border towns (Tijuana, Mexicali and Ciudad Juarez), large cities (Monterrey, Guadalajara and Mexico City) and leisure destinations (Los Cabos, Puerto Vallarta and Cancun).
The potential for growth in this niche may increase further if a new law, the General Law of Medical Tourism, passes the Mexican senate this year, creating new platforms for promoting and regulating the industry within Mexico. In addition, Acuna-Braun said a fam trip for medical directors from U.S.-based insurance companies, which is to take place this spring, may also increase the acceptability of medical procedures abroad.
Already, travel agents will find a variety of companies and organizations to help them create packages for clients looking to add a medical or cosmetic angle to their next trip south of the border. The Mexican Council of the Medical Tourism Industry has created strategic alliances with organizations, including the World Tourism Organization and associations of Mexican plastic surgeons, opthamologists and dentists, to better promote the region as a medical tourism destination.
According to the website Patients Beyond Borders, the quality of service in Mexico now rivals that of its competitors in Asia, and the Mexico Tourism Board reports that more than 20 destinations in Mexico now offer viable health care options for foreign visitors.
These services come at prices that tourism officials say are 60 to 80 percent lower than those found in the U.S. Mexico has 96 hospitals certified by the National Ministry of Health, as well as nine hospitals and one medical complex accredited by the Joint Commission International — an organization that certifies health facilities for international use.
One such facility is Medica Sur, a private teaching hospital in the Mexico City area that specializes in a variety of fields, including cardiac surgery, cardiology, gastroenterology, neurology, oncology and organ transplants. The hospital has its own medical tourism manager, who oversees arrangements, including transportation to and from the airport, and packages with post-surgery hotel stays.
Acuna-Braun predicted that Mexico’s Caribbean coast will experience increases in medical tourism.
“Cancun, being the most successful destination and the one that has more connectivity with the U.S. and Canada, stands to be a winner in this market, at least among the leisure destinations,” said Acuna-Braun.
The largest medical facility in Cancun to currently partner with Medical Travel Under the Sun is Galenia Hospital. It sits adjacent to Four Points by Sheraton Cancun Centro, which opened in February. The hospital — which offers bariatric weight-loss surgery, plastic surgery and orthopedic surgery — is accredited by Joint Commission International as well as Accreditation Canada International.
Travel advisors should find the right partners to ensure clients get the best possible experience, according to Acuna-Braun.
“Companies such as Health Ambassadors Mexico — which work as local facilitators — enable medical travelers by offering options, hospitals, hotels and local transportation to medical travelers and their companion,” he said. “Usually, they work hand in hand with American and Canadian facilitators, and could work with travel agents as they become more aware of the needs and services that medical travelers often require.”