South American countries benefiting from medical tourism: Argentina, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico

 

Although many South and Central American countries seek to be medical tourism destinations, not all are successful. Mexico is the market leader due to proximity to the USA and a dual English and Hispanic culture.

Argentina continues gaining momentum thanks to low costs, skilled surgeons and active efforts to raise international awareness in the USA and Europe, particularly Spain and Portugal. The National Institute of Tourism Promotion (Inprotur) says the number of foreign visitors going to Argentina for medical tourism exceeds 1000 a month, and the sector is expected to generate US$80 million in revenue in 2011, a 10% increase over 2010. The continued growth in medical tourism arrivals is good news for hotels, restaurants and other service-related businesses in Argentina, as the average medical tourism visitor stays 12 days. The shortest stays are typically a week for simple procedures up to one month for more complex procedures requiring extended rest and follow-up visits with doctors.

The City of Hartford, Connecticut has selected medical tourism agency Satori World Medical as an additional health network option for city employees.  Hartford is the first US city to offer a medical travel benefit to their employees and dependents.

Satori's network claims to save 40 to 80 % on US costs by using a network of hospitals in Puerto Rico. Richard Pokorski for the City of Hartford explains, “We employ a large Hispanic workforce so access to hospitals in Puerto Rico may be a very attractive option.”

Costa Rica, keen to increase medical tourism, is stopping a controversial practice that has been bringing it bad publicity. The health ministry has ordered the country's largest stem cell clinic to stop offering treatments, arguing there is no evidence that the treatments work or are safe. Dr. Ileana Herrera of the Ministerio de Salud says, “If stem cell treatment's efficiency and safety has not been proven, we believe it should not be used. As a health ministry, we must always protect the human being.”

The clinic's owner, Arizona entrepreneur Neil Riordan, has closed the clinic and admitted the treatments, involving the removal and re-injection of stem cells, have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The ministry said the clinic had a permit to store the adult stem cells, extracted from patients' own fat tissue, bone marrow and donated umbilical cords, but was not authorized to perform treatment. The clinic had been treating American medical tourists with multiple sclerosis and other forms of paralysis. The Costa Rican government does not want to be held liable for an unproven treatment, but patients may go to other less scrupulous countries that allow untested procedures.

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