Moves to expand Caribbean medical tourism

 

With a population of just 142,000, the Dutch owned Curacao is hoping to attract American medical tourists to its one hospital, two private clinics, and four dental clinics.

In the Turks and Caicos Islands, at Cockburn Town Medical Centre on Grand Turk and Cheshire Hall Medical Center on Providenciales, a new form of medical tourism has been developed. Here, the patient stays on the island, but the medical team is flown in from the USA. Nine local residents received total knee replacements during a five-day visit by surgeons and staff visiting from Chicago. It was a long awaited relief for the patients, some of whom had waited a decade for the procedure. InterHealth Canada, operator of the two hospitals, contracted the surgeon through Global MedChoices, a US based medical tourism agency. The surgery was a test for a bigger plan to bring American patients to the country to utilize the state-of-the-art hospital facilities for orthopedic surgeries. This is particularly important for the Grand Turk facility, which is currently not used to its maximum potential. Renting the facilities to outside firms would create a potential new revenue stream for the cash strapped government.

In Barbados a group of American investors has decided to transform the derelict St Joseph Hospital in St Peter into a modern facility designed to serve foreign and local patients by recruiting US and Canadian doctors to buy time-share style membership in the renovated hospital and bring their patients there for surgery.  American World Clinics (AWC) hopes to open the first stage of the new five-year project as AWC-Barbados in 2014. And a fertility centre in Barbados is successfully attracting couples from Britain and North America.

The idea of an exclusive drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility is being looked at by a Bermuda Hospitals Board (BHB) committee set up to explore opportunities for medical tourism. King Edward VII Memorial began offering a prostate cancer treatment unavailable in the US called High Intensity Focused Ultrasound (HIFU) in 2010, bringing hundreds of American medical tourists to the island. Other specialists are now offering cosmetic and weight-loss procedures at the hospital to patients from abroad in partnership with BHB.  BHB subsidiary Healthcare Partners Limited offers concierge services for people going to Bermuda for medical treatment. Top US rehab organization the Caron Foundation already has a base in Bermuda, but Bermuda residents have to travel to the US for the actual treatment as the local clinic is only for contact and aftercare.

So far, despite much talk and promotion, the numbers of medical tourists going to Caribbean islands is very small and overshadowed by the increasing number of locals going to other countries for treatment. Florida hospitals get many medical tourists from the region and are stepping up promotional and marketing activity.

The Caribbean used to be a very important travel market for Puerto Rico but with economic turmoil in the region in recent years, the tourism market has suffered. Air Eagle has restored and added 250 flights from the USA and Caribbean that had vanished during 2007/2008. Mario Gonzalez-Lafuenta of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company says, “Medical tourism from the Caribbean is very important, and we have a new law right now that allows for additional promotions and allows for service providers in Puerto Rico to become more aggressive since they will be receiving incentives – credit incentives and tax incentives – from the government of Puerto Rico. We are developing a whole strategy to enhance and further medical tourism and increasing promotion in our primary markets.”

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