Developments in medical tourism in the Caribbean

 

Although medical tourism in the Caribbean consists more of outbound trips to the USA than inbound business, several countries are seeking to develop local business.

In the Bahamas, American World Clinics (AWC) are still to decide which island is the best first one for new hospitals for medical tourists, expatriates and local patients seeking a US standard of medicine and medical care. AWC already operates in Barbados, and is looking at the Canary Islands and Uruguay. The company works closely with local governments in developing their hospitals on a public-private partnership model.

The Bermuda Hospitals Board (BHB) has been actively exploring medical tourism. It is offering a new prostate treatment in Bermuda that is not yet available in the USA. An increase in medical tourism has been good for local hotels, with 1,000 hotel bookings a direct result of the new prostate treatment. Bermuda is upgrading its hospitals to make them more modern and more appealing to tourists. They are looking to add dental and cosmetic surgery.

Jamaica has approved a new hospital built by local doctors in a public-private partnership in St. James, as the government looks to encourage medical tourism industry.

The first total hip replacement procedure performed in the Turks and Caicos Islands was a success and establishes the country as a medical tourism destination. A team of overseas doctors from Global MedChoices (GMC) performed the first total hip replacement at the Cheshire Hall Medical Facility on Providenciales. In all, five patients were brought to the island by GMC. InterHealth Canada contracted the surgeon through Global MedChoices, a US based medical tourism agency. The plan now is to fly in more patients from the USA and Canada, to be treated by flown in Canadian and US doctors. InterHealth Canada runs two hospitals on the islands.

The government of the Cayman Islands spends a fifth of its annual budget on healthcare. Dr. Devi Shetty’s new Health City Cayman Islands, currently being built in East End, will reduce the amount of overseas travel for medical procedures. The need to travel overseas for healthcare has been a drain on both the government and private individuals’ purses for many years. For the year ending June 2011, the cost of overseas healthcare claims incurred under the official insurance programmes for treatment off-island for civil servants, veterans and seamen, indigents and other residents covered by the government’s insurance company was almost $30 million, almost all in Florida hospitals.

Health City Cayman Islands is ahead of schedule and the site is on track for its expected completion in February 2014. The construction of the first phase, which consists of four linked buildings that make up a single complex, is being done on 14 acres of the site, which could eventually cover 200 acres. The first patients are expected to be admitted to the 140-bed hospital in March 2014.It will specialize in cardiac surgery, cardiology and orthopedics. Indian hospital group Narayana Hrudayalaya is partnered by Ascension Health Alliance, the largest private not for profit health network in the United States.

While many of these new hospitals and clinics claim to be aimed at medical tourists, the first effect is likely to be a reduction in the number travelling to hospitals in the USA and elsewhere. So whether the number of new inbound medical tourists will be higher than the reduction in outbound medical tourists across the Caribbean is an interesting question. Overseas investors may well make a long-term profit from developing hospitals, if they can get the locals and expatriates to use them. Getting profit just from increased inbound medical tourism is a major challenge.

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