Emilia Lopez-Portillo
Director General
Monterrey Ciudad de la Salud

Attracting More International Patients

Sat, 09/05/2015 - 12:55

Medical tourism clusters are networks of important healthcare, financial, and tourism institutions that market medical procedures and services within the country in the same way that a holiday package would be sold. One such cluster exists in Monterrey, the third largest city in Mexico which is currently emerging as a leader in providing complex surgeries in the fields of cardiology, orthopedics, and oncology. Monterrey Health City (MHC), which integrates the participation of government, academia, and private institutions to evaluate and evolve procedures, consists of 16 hospitals. According to its Director General Emilia López-Portillo Woo, there are plans to expand to 20-25 member hospitals. “Although private hospitals in the same area could be seen as competitors, the cluster is a beneficial hub in which hospitals share best practices and are supported in terms of certification and security issues, ultimately fostering the medical tourism industry within Monterrey,” López-Portillo says.

MHC was set up in 2005 by Nuevo Leon’s Secretariat of Economic Development after the growing demand for medical services from foreigners was recognized. Although Monterrey is a hub for medical specialization in complex procedures and medical innovation, López-Portillo believes that many tourists associate Mexico with the kind of medical tourism that normally takes place in Quintana Roo, such as cosmetic procedures and orthodontology. Therefore, she identifies the need for better promotion of the highly specialized medicine capabilities in Monterrey Healthcare City. In fact, due to the ever increasing developments in the field of oncology and the state-of-the-art treatment facilities in Monterrey, López-Portillo believes there has been a surge in the number of Mexican cancer patients coming to the city to seek treatment, creating a platform to increasingly spread the word outside Mexico.

The cluster has a designated Quality and Safety Committee, responsible for supporting the smaller hospitals and clinics with their certification processes. All of the hospitals involved in the cluster are certified by the General Health Council, the highest certification body in Mexico. Although some hospitals initially opted to become certified by the Joint Commission International (JCI), López-Portillo explained “the General Health Council’s requirements are essentially the same as those of JCI, some of them actually being more comprehensive. Four hospitals did not renovate their JCI accreditation.”

As part of the services offered by MHC, patients receive information on medical treatments offered in Monterrey, contacts in hospitals, and a comprehensive package for patients coming from abroad. In terms of patient experience, from beginning to end every process and procedure is accounted for. Airport transfers, food and accommodation during recovery time are taken care of by the cluster, capitalizing on incorporated contacts within the tourism industry. According to López-Portillo, this makes a huge difference to medical tourism in Monterrey, and to tourism as a whole, since patients who leave satisfied are more likely to return, whether it is for another medical procedure or simply for a vacation.

“Clusters like MHC can also solve some of the problems faced by the Mexican healthcare industry today,” says López-Portillo. “For instance, lack of private insurance can mean that people have to go to the public system, so more collaboration between public and private institutions could improve access. MHC encourages this with economic incentives from the government agencies in Nuevo Leon. In recent years, the San José Hospital has been an example of the way in which private hospitals can share their technology and equipment with public institutions.” In June 2015, the MHC cluster started to broadcast a live, interactive radio program aimed at targeting Canadian patients who often experience long waiting times for treatment. In addition, the annual medical tourism congress will be held in conjunction with ProMéxico in 2016, which is expected to also gather the clusters in Jalisco, Quintana Roo, and Tamaulipas. These clusters have already approached the Monterrey cluster in an attempt to make conjoint efforts in promoting Mexico as the best medical tourism destination in the world. The cluster also plans to integrate patient testimonials, using feedback to make improvements and further developing positive aspects of the care provided.