The Rise of Global Healthcare from Latin America


We are seeing in the horizon an amazing shift in the type of healthcare being found in Latin America.  Once sought for its tropical rainforests and excellent cosmetic and dental services countries like Costa Rica El Salvador Guatemala Argentina and Mexico are attracting more and more patients for high specialty services such as knee and hip replacements spinal surgery bariatric procedures and cardiac care.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a leader of the Latin American force of countries promoting themselves in the medical tourism space.  Dr. Jorge Cortes Rodriguez Medical Director of Hospital Clinica Biblica recognizes that the new expansion of medical tourism into Latin American is a very strong force in the field of medicine. He stated &ldquoIt is going to change medicine as we know it and it will continue to put a lot of impact on needed reforms in the U.S. health system in that of the whole world.  

Insurance companies must trust more on the issue of quality for hospitals around the world that they have less complication and less cost.&rdquoDr. Cortes vouches for Costa Rica as a very beautiful country with a large history of quality in medical field.  &ldquoThis is true in health systems and health in general and people must realize private hospitals in Costa Rica are very good.

There are two different hospitals one is clinical &ndash this is the first hospital in Central and South American region.  It was founded 80 years ago and is the larger one in the country. It deals with 55% of all private patients in Costa Rica&rdquo he says.

&ldquoThe other one is also very strong staffed by young professionals and under scope of Canadian quality accreditation.  We are trying to develop a very strong program. Our international affairs office was founded a few years ago.  Our hospital has been recognized as 6th place in the world and is promoted by different health providers in the U.S.&rdquo In addition to its excellent medical resources Costa Rica is very well known for ecotourism one of the most known countries for ecological issues.  

The people who started coming here as medical tourists came for treatment in the cosmetic field such as face lifts which insurance does not cover.  Once people started to use cosmetic services in Costa Rica they gave wonderful referrals for their services and then people started coming for medical check-ups.  Thereafter they discovered that they had very high levels of services and they developed trust.  

Once the trust was developed there was a boom of people preferring to go on a four hour flight instead of twenty hours to Asia.  Cortes said it was at that point that they started to offer orthopedic surgery and bariatric surgery to international patients.Dr. Cortes states &ldquoWe are focusing on North America. Spain is coming and Germany too. Germans are the second largest population in our hospital. We experienced a 7% growth of international patients which translates to 9000 foreign patients a year. We are a 100 bed hospital with state of art integrated surgical suites. We have just finished construction of new infrastructure. And we have capacity.  

And as a country Costa Rica started with a national initiative through ProMed which is the Council for Promotion of Medical Tourism in international countries comprised of private initiatives and sectoral initiatives. Dr. Cortes realizes the value in working as a group.  He said &ldquoIn order for us to achieve successful governmental actions we participate as one country.   One of the main issues here is quality is no longer belongs to a specific geographical area.

In medicine quality belongs to the world itself. Medical tourism is a great opportunity for patients in the whole world. For Costa Rica they consider traveling in and being in a beautiful country that is politically stable which is also good for recuperation.&rdquo

Hospital Clinica Biblica

Hospital Clinica Biblica was a bronze sponsor at the Congress.  In an interview with Brad Cook International Patient Administrator of Hospital Clinica Biblica we learned about how their hospital the first to receive JCI Accreditation in Costa Rica identified the opportunities for their hospital before all of the other in Central America.He said &ldquoWe identified early on that we needed to be successful in the following four areas and put a program in place to meet each one of these goals.  We put in place a process for attracting converting and following up with your patients.  

We also put in place a physician's network dedicated to international patients as well as a qualified international department staff and a network of concierge and aftercare services.&rdquoIt was in this way that Hospital Clinica Biblica is able to have a system in place that consistently provides for an international patient experience that is pleasant easy and stress-free.  Simply put everything they do is with the express purpose of making our international patient happy while he or she is in Costa Rica.It would seem that the secret to the success of Hospital Clinica Biblica above anything else has been customer service and quality medical care and outcomes.

They also have the advantage of being in Costa Rica which is located just a few hours flight from the U.S. and is ranked 36th in the world by the World Health Organization.  Costa Rica is a peaceful and friendly nation that boasts amazing biodiversity and is recognized worldwide as a leading destination for ecotourism giving us the opportunity to provide a truly unique destination for patients who not only need surgery but a place to heal.

Cook states that their main challenge not just at Clinica Biblica but Costa Rica is to prepare the country in terms of infrastructure and human resources to meet the future demands of this burgeoning industry.As Central America's premier medical institution and first JCI accredited hospital Clinica Biblica Hospital offers North American patients convenient access and proximity to a wide variety of leading-edge medical treatments coordinated through an experienced service oriented International Patient Department.

When asked about the recent Congress in San Francisco and their prospects for the future his reply was positive.  &ldquoAs a hospital that is keen on attracting overseas patients we went to the Congress with high expectations. These I'm happy to say were met and oftentimes exceeded! The networking opportunities alone are worth the price of the registration. The caliber of the speakers and workshops were amazing and we found much practical advice that we can implement immediately into our international patient program. We will be back to San Francisco in 2009&rdquo he said.

Supporting Systems ~ Homewatch International

As these medical tourism services develop we become increasingly concerned about the issue of aftercare.  What happens to a patient once they leave the hospital and venture off to a local hotel or recovery center?  Homewatch International was a silver sponsor at the Congress.  We interviewed Leann Reynolds from Homewatch International who gave her input on how they are using the medical tourism market to establish a niche for themselves.&ldquoBy way of background different countries have different laws.

At Homewatch International we sell the business opportunity for people to provide in-home care services. We service all markets with a wide range of services. From simple services like meal prep light housekeeping to skilled nursing care in foreign countries.  Homewatch got involved internationally via Costa Rican partners and then we established in Guatemala and Panama as well&rdquo states Reynolds.

Homewatch International offers solutions to hospitals that are catering to medical tourism environments.  They partner with hospital to provide continuity of care by selling them the system of in-home care services. &ldquoWe retain and train. We teach them how to market the services A to Z to really running a home care business.  Our primary market is for stay in home assistance services&rdquo she adds.  Reynolds explains the difference when you are dealing with medical tourism.  &ldquoCurrently the majority of our clients are Costa Rican.  However we have wonderful things going on in Brazil and we are opening an office in Panama.  

We are also in New Zealand today. And we are extending the Homewatch solution in Asia to Thailand and Singapore.&rdquoHomewatch is hoping to present to medical providers and hospital systems that are interested that they can be part of the solution and that there is a continuity of care. They have a network in the U.S. of franchise partners who check patients before travel abroad we do before and after care. Reynolds noted that there are issues in the international market as to how to partner facilitate and create that link.  

There are also legal information exchange types of issues.  &ldquoWe are working on understanding how to partner with health systems from abroad. We are looking at quality and scope of services. And how to preserve our &lsquoinnovative solutions in continuity of care'&rdquo she said.Reynolds describes that critical link is with health systems.  &ldquoIn terms of credentialing that is one of our true differentiators here we are focused on delivering that personal care.  

Our legacy which originated with our founder is that of &ldquominor medical&rdquo which is the term we use. When we started it was that philosophy which built the company to the level it is today in delivering the care with the proper oversights.  With that legacy we are proud to carry this forward with our international partners. Our franchise network is strong and healthy.

Recovery ~ Intercontinental Hotel Group

Other corporate giants have seen the opportunity to develop their niche in the medical tourism marketplace like Intercontinental Hotel Group which has brands that include InterContinental® Hotels & Resorts Crowne Plaza® Hotels & Resorts Holiday Inn ® Hotels and Resorts Holiday Inn Express® Staybridge Suites® Candlewood Suites® y Hotel Indigo® all of which have a global reputation for excellent service and standards. IHG believes that offering their brands to this market can provide patients/guests a sense of relief since they will know that they will be staying in hotel they are familiar with and which has a brand name they can trust.

They're also comforted by the fact that our hotels offer good service clean rooms along with many other value-added amenities such as 24 hour room service fitness center and business center all of which are perfect when your body mind and soul are in recovery mode. Jim Follett of Global Sales in Latin America states that this program is still in its test stages but they see this as an emerging market that has enormous potential.  

We will first launch this program in our hotels in Costa Rica Panama Monterey Mexico and Sao Paulo and based on the success in these regions we will continue to expand the program throughout all of Latin America and then perhaps globally&rdquo he said.Follett also said that IHG is in the process of fine-tuning the program through research.  They plan to have their hotel staff will provide extra attention to the patients/guests and daily transfers to and from the doctor's office providing special dietary meals and other amenities based upon the patient's treatment plan.At the Congress Follett gave a presentation about their program in an aftercare session.  

When asked about his experience at the Congress Follett stated &ldquoAs a first time conference the Congress itself was a well-run and organized event. The programs that were put together bringing in the American Medical Association and people not vested in the success of medical tourism and allowing them to talk candidly to the group of delegates really allowed us to see the other side of the coin.&rdquo &ldquoThe one-on-one networking was very helpful and it worked well for me.

I spent 15 minutes with customers that I would not otherwise have found.  In terms of information flow there was a lot of it and I discovered other areas of business available to our hotel which we were not aware of&rdquo he added.


Guatemala is a very unique place with much to offer.  Close to the US in geography Guatemala offers very competitive prices for medical procedures. Guatemalans are extremely hospitable.  It is said that whoever goes to Guatemala will be impressed by niceness and the caring doctors who have time for you as you are surrounded by friendly nurses who are very important for recovery purposes. All year round Guatemala experiences spring-like climate. With modern private hospitals with latest hi-tech equipment there is no waiting list although no private hospitals are internationally accredited.

Their goal is to obtain international accreditation by 2009 and they are looking for government support to accomplish this.  So for now the focus of Guatemala is on wellness and elective medicine.  SpaMed Holiday provides a medical tourism holiday role in Guatemala.  Owner of the company Cecile Billiet is a Belgian who has spent three years in Guatemala and became interested in spas there.  &ldquoI was so taken by this thermal spa and its official impact on health that I came to agreement with owners to bring tourists to this spa on conditions that we keep authentic conditions of the spam maintain ecological nature and use local products&rdquo she said.

In October 2007 SpaMed launched a website and they were approached by Guatemala Export Commission to join in health and wellness.  The hospitals doctors clinics then came to be involved more in medical tourism.  &ldquoLast year I was tapped for Board of Directors on that Commission and in December we attended medical tourism conference and heard about the Medical Tourism Association&rdquo says Billiet.&ldquoWe were stimulated to become member of MTA.

We have been lobbying in Guatemala with governments for our activities&rdquo she added. Fortunately through the efforts of those working with Cecile Billiet they were able to convince Guatemala to offer a stamp about medical tourism with the Guatemala Tourist Board.

Guatemala was a silver sponsor at the Congress.  The Medical Tourism Association invited Cecile Billiet to participate in a panel session on wellness at the Congress and to represent Guatemala and their new global effort to promote themselves in the medical tourism arena.  

When asked about her experience at the Congress Billiet replied &ldquoThanks to the many networking opportunities cleverly put together by the MTA.  I was able to make many valuable connections that I would never have thought of in my wildest dreams. The organization of the event was absolutely superb the MTA staff was extremely positive and helpful in making everyone feel at ease.&rdquo  

She added further &ldquoBy taking on the challenge to be part of a Panel I was able to show the audience the many other benefits of SpaMed Holiday's Wellness Program: the option to combine a health spa vacation with the learning of new skills while enjoying many entertainment opportunities and cultural or eco-trips in beautiful Guatemala.  I felt energized by the reaction of the attendees.


What is going on in South America?  For years people have been flocking to the cosmetic surgeons of Brazil for face lifts implants and other &ldquolife-improving&rdquo elective procedures.  The names of the surgeons have only been heard in whispers through the elite who have escape to Brazil's cities for &ldquovacations&rdquo that leave them with surprising &ldquorefreshed&rdquo appearances.  

Brazil's next door neighbor Argentina wants an opportunity to bring in patients not only for these often sought cosmetic procedures but also for high specialty procedures in the areas of cardiac care urology fertility gynecology ophthalmology and oncology not to mention the cosmetic and dental care for which they are renowned.While Argentina currently does not have any internationally accredited hospitals to offer accreditation is at the top of the list of priorities for some hospitals such as Hospital Universitario Austral and FLENI for example.  Argentina has all the flora and fauna mountains and ecotourism found in the rest of Latin America with the benefit of a modern capital city rich in culture and diverse with medical expertise.

The government of Argentina is not yet supporting any organized effort in promoting itself for medical tourism but many of the healthcare providers have joined together under the leadership of Dr. Guillermo Gonzalez Strategic Development Executive of the Medical Tourism Association.  Their efforts to work together as healthcare providers facilitators and aftercare centers shall prove to be effective to place Argentina on the map for medical tourism in the upcoming months.

Daniel Vasquez Ger Director of International Development and Health International at Hospital Universitario Austral was invited to participate in a panel session on Latin American Healthcare.  His provoking presentation on the true cost savings for insurance companies in overseas travel had many insurance companies on the edge of their seats. When asked about the Congress Vasquez stated &ldquoFirst of all it was a great experience attending Congress.

What we appreciate is that the industry is emerging with many new facilitators with new hospitals seeking accreditation and health insurance companies were not too willing to buy services abroad until now.  They are watching the market they came to Congress to watch but up to now have not willing to buy. They want to be very sure.  &ldquoHowever there is a big market there which does not have too many possibilities to be treated in the US because of cost.  

We see that there is a very big economic opportunity.  We think the MTA is doing a very good show.  They are trying to shine everyone together in developing a good network. They have a lot to do in the future as the leadership organization&rdquo he added.


In the search for efficiency healthcare in Mexico is getting organized to offer innovating answers to international problems.  Although there are some challenges some states in Mexico are making a concerted effort to promote themselves in the Medical Tourism space.Take Monterrey Mexico for example.  Monterrey is a mountainside modern city with two JCI Accredited hospitals and several more in the beginning processes of International accreditation.  Christus Muguerza and Hospital San Jose Tec de Monterrey boast modern high end facilities with multi specialty offerings and top notch surgeons.  

With the formation of Monterrey Healthcare City Monterrey Is the leader for Mexico in medical tourism and setting a marvelous example of how the formation of clusters chambers and associations can facilitate the growth of the healthcare In the private and public sectors and create economic opportunities to benefit the region.  Both Christus Muguerza and Monterrey Healthcare City were silver sponsors at the Congress.

Recently invited attendees from Mexico and the United States gathered in Sonora Mexico for the first International Forum on &ldquoSonora Opportunities and Perspectives of Health Tourism&rdquo. The forum featured 200 delegates over two days of panel discussions to help promote Medical Tourism in Sonora Mexico. The keynote speaker was Dr. Jose Angel Cordova Villalobos Secretary of Health in Mexico who spoke about the upcoming challenges that will be faced in Sonora and about their goals for the future. The forum was a step in the right direction for Medical Tourism in Sonora.

Health Tourism of Sonora was a Bronze Sponsor at the World Medical Tourism and Global Health Congress where they networked with many of the speakers that spoke at the Congress.Chihuahua Mexico made their great outing at the Congress with two bronze sponsors Clinica las Cumbres and The Obesity and Metabolic Surgery Center and a bronze sponsor from Mazlatan The Obesity Center.  The Economic Development Division of Chihuahua is working with the various governmental groups and healthcare providers to put together a cluster for promotion of medical tourism.  

High quality facilities such as CIMA and Clinica las Cumbres will be working together to promote Chihuahua as a healthcare city.When asked about the success for Mexico at the Congress Sebastian Viramontes Commercial Director of Hospital San Jose Tec de Monterrey stated &ldquoWe found the Congress definitely met our expectations. We were able to hold meetings with many of the players in the health care industry.

We met with insurance companies brokers medical facilitators.&rdquo  &ldquoWe were able to increase visibility make people aware of quality and safety.  And we were able to establish the first stage to have long term business relationships with people in U.S. So we can participate in a more systematic way in this phenomenon called medical tourism&rdquo he added.

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