Servando Acuña
Director General
Quintana Roo Medical Travel Association
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A Growing Market of Expat Retirees

Wed, 09/07/2016 - 10:54

Q: How did medical tourism begin its development in Quintana Roo?

A: In Cancun, medical tourism started because of numerous time-share ventures. People came on vacation for a week, got sick, had to go to a doctor or a hospital and they liked the service so much that next year they came for vacation and decided to schedule a doctors’ appointment. Coming on a vacation became an excuse for going to the doctor. This is what we call informal medical tourism. Organized medical tourism involves actively planning and promoting the advantages of medical services offered in Mexico.

Five or six years ago, we noticed the health situation in the US was reaching a critical point. Private healthcare prices had increased enormously and public health services had various limitations. Around that time, we also discovered that Canada’s health system is insufficient to cover Canadian needs in a timely fashion, indicating an important window of opportunity. We needed to identify the most common medical procedures people were in need of and if they were elective or non-elective. We identified at least five different areas to focus on. Bariatrics procedures were a natural option, as Mexico and the US have an increasingly overweight population creating a niche market. Orthopedics treat many patients for knee and hip replacements due to the aging society. The third market opportunity was cosmetic surgery. We also treat patients in dentistry, which is a sought after specialty. Fertility clinics were also an important opening. Finally, we want to investigate stem cells procedures. R&D facilities are contributing to this area. Bio-cellular medicine has become an important niche and is considered the future of medicine.

Q: Is there a specific niche market in which you expect Cancun to thrive?

A: We have a growing market regarding medical tourism services, but we would like to attract a bigger retirement community. There are more than 1 million US citizens living in Mexico. Each of these retired citizens has an average income of US$3,500-4,500 per month. A US citizen living in Cancun will spend US$4,000 monthly, which means that per year he or she will spend US$48,000. A hundred US citizens living in the city will spend approximately US$4,800,000 per year. A percentage of this amount would be spent on doctors and hospitals. This is why the retiree population is an attractive market for us. When retirement enterprises visit us, the first thing they ask about is our health system.

Q: Why should patients choose Cancun or Cozumel over other medical tourism destinations?

A: Unlike many other places, in Cancun medical responsibility is mainly in the hands of the hospital as an institution. Those taking responsibility for patients’ lives are medical institutions. Cancun depends completely on the tourism industry, which is why we are so professionally committed to positive outcomes for our patients. Our hospitals and doctors’ certifications are an important selling point. To obtain a certificate from the General Health Council (CSG), hospitals need to comply with requisites as measurable as quality results, patient safety and clinical outcomes. This involves a long checklist of requirements. An important thing to take into consideration is that CSG and the JCI have homogenized their certifications. Mexico is the only country to have homogenized its certification. This means that if you approve the Mexican Certification then you have already approved around 80-90 percent of the US certification. Having this accreditation is commercially important. Without the JCI seal of approval, insurance companies will not pay for procedures. Therefore, we worked actively to comply with their conditions.

Q: How have the cities benefited from the development of the medical tourism industry?

A: Medical tourism not only creates job opportunities but also contributes to the improvement of medical services for foreigners and nationals. Due to the constant influx of foreign patients, hospitals are being provided with the resources they need to modernize their facilities to offer higher quality health programs for the least wealthy. We are extremely proud of our certifications because we can offer quality medical services to national patients.