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In Spite of Mexican Healthcare Challenges the Medical Tourism Market is on the Rise

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The Mexican healthcare system has many challenges to overcome in order to become a truly sustainable sector. Low patient-to-doctor ratios and exorbitant out-of-pocket spending by consumers reflects problems in the system. Yet, opportunities do exist in the Mexican healthcare market.

“Another real challenge lies in the fact that the Mexico’s healthcare system functions as a cluster of sub-systems that operate in isolation.  Each offers different levels of care, at different prices, and with outcomes that are also very uneven.

People are unable to choose their type of insurance or their service provider, as these are predetermined by their employment status – public, private, formal, informal, or none,” said Angel Gurria, Secretary-General at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in its publication Health System Review of Mexico.

Mexican healthcare is delivered through a number of separate social security institutes and the country has a publicly-subsidized health insurance plan known as “Seguro Popular” which has extended coverage to 50 million people over the past ten years.  

Unfortunately, out of pocket spending for consumers is very high which is reflective of problems in providing effective insurance and high quality healthcare services.

Additionally, the current structure of the Mexican healthcare system is not achieving a good price-to-quality ratio.  While public spending on healthcare has increased over the past ten years (from 2.4 percent to 3.2 percent of GDP), 10 percent of the country’s health budget is spent on administration and individuals’ out of pocket spending on healthcare services exceeds 40 percent. To make matters worse, Mexico has an average of 2.2 physicians for every 1,000 inhabitants.

In a recent report by the OECD, three priorities emerged for Mexican health system reform:

  1. Mexico must extend service-exchange agreements so that members can more readily move from one system to another.

  2. Greater emphasis should be placed on improving quality of care and outcomes.

  3. Mexico needs to align the various areas of care and medical service (e.g. care pathways, prices, information systems and administrative practices).

Where there are Challenges there are also Opportunities

Mexico does however have a budding medical tourism industry, mostly in the form of dental and cosmetic. From the standpoint of the United States, as the lackluster economy continues to leave more Americans without jobs or working for employers who can no longer afford to provide insurance due to healthcare reform, eyes are looking to south of the border.

Most of the medical tourists coming into Mexico are from the United States.  This is due in large part to the governmental healthcare reform that has driven up health insurance rates.  Older Americans often need expensive dental work and these factors are encouraging seniors to go to Mexico for procedures such as crowns, false teeth, and implants.

Many dental procedures can cost half as much in Mexico as they would in the United States.  Adding that incentive on top of an enticing vacation itinerary, and we can begin see why medical tourism in Mexico looks increasingly attractive.  For U.S. travelers, Mexico has the advantage of an easier trip and a more familiar culture.

In coordination with other federal agencies, the Health Ministry plans to build up Mexico’s medical tourism infrastructure during the next two years. The initiative includes training bilingual Spanish-English nurses, and a push to increase the number of private Mexican hospitals accredited by a joint US-Mexico commission.  

There are an ever-increasing number of English-speaking doctors and case managers in Mexico that will certainly aid in the lure of medical patients.

While Mexico makes efforts to strengthen the medical tourism sector, they must also work towards improving the reputation of healthcare in some cases. There have been various incidents and reported deaths in Mexico, of medical tourists after cosmetic surgery that the Health Ministry will need to overcome in order to pursue an elevated growth in medical tourism. Additionally, the safety of the country is always a concern for travelers as well as the issue of how medical malpractice or negligence is handled.

The Mexican government is expecting the number of visitors seeking medical treatment in Mexico to reach 650,000 annually by 2020.

The infrastructures in place that can currently support medical tourism are; nine Mexican hospitals accredited by Joint Commission International. The Angeles Hospital network in particular, serves more than 800 medical tourism patients every year.  

This network includes 28 hospitals, 230 operating rooms, 2,550 beds, 11,000 physicians, and 15,000 specialists. In addition to Mexico’s healthcare infrastructure, the tourism industry is well established and draws over 20 million foreign visitors a year.

Mexico is an especially attractive option for Americans and Canadians for nearby medical care and an enjoyable climate for recovery. Acapulco, Cozumel, and Los Cabos are some of the popular beach resort destinations, and famous archeological sites such as Palenque, Chichen Itza, and Teotihuacan are major attractions drawing tourists to Mexico.

About the Author:

ABISA is a global healthcare consultancy specializing on healthcare strategy and physician engagement, strategic telehealth initiatives, and global oncology initiatives.  ABISA can help devise and implement the strategies and processes that will allow organizations to remain competitive and solvent.  Contact us at

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