Just as the Atlantic Ocean abounds from Newfoundland, envelopes Bermuda’s pristine reefs, flows down to South America and is a vast expanse of seas and life beneath the seas, so is the ripening opportunity for Bermuda and other Caribbean islands to enhance and support a diverse health and wellness niche tourism economic future.
The Caribbean islands have always played a key role in the global economies, from the early days of the sugar barons, to the America Civil War, to space flight. Therefore, the islands are seizing the opportunity to develop niche markets for the most life enhancing spas, obesity centers and wellness destinations utilizing nature’s priceless gifts of warm oceans, azure seas, natural beauty, historic landmarks, friendly people, mountains and rivers.
Tourism has always been a major contributor to gross domestic product in the Caribbean islands. Many islands are investigating the viability of enhancing their tourist product by offering niche health, medical and wellness services.
Best practice deems it wise to include certification of service providers, staff and concierge service in health/wellness tourism by an accrediting body and to ensure transparency in pricing in the marketplace.
“Medical tourists,” for the purpose of this article, will be used to reference those mobile patients who personally select to have services done overseas and pay out-of-pocket for such services as: cosmetics, substance and alcohol abuse, services which might not be FDA-approved in the United States and not legislatively prohibited in the islands, fertility treatment, dental services, etc.
Bermuda can boast about the stability of its government, governance structure, public health system and international reputation as an island built on integrity, sustainable international business relationships and close proximity to the U.S. and air links.
Patients must have access to his/her medical records, and doctors must involve patients in the medical care. As many countries are not as forward thinking, this creates an opportunity for the Caribbean islands.
As physicians have been migrating since the 1960s, there must be a systematic, consistent vetting process in place by the host island to ensure visiting physicians are credentialed and inspected. Patient safety must be protected, as the resulting impact could be negative publicity for the host island.
Even in the process of procuring services of international physicians and supporting nursing staff, these vendors require that all upfront costs for credentialing/licensing, visas, temporary housing and equipment be stated with no hidden cost attachments.
A CUTS Centre for International Trade, Economics & Environment report, which was a case study for India in 2007, indicated the medical tourism industry was already estimated at over $20 billion dollars, with the majority of the money directly dropped in the economies and healthcare systems of the host nations.
Most recent studies by OECD put the potential trade in health tourism in the future in the trillions. We must remember that it is difficult tracking these healthcare dollars as there is no systematic process in place even in 2012.
In addition, it is important to recognize that, in conjunction with the patient who is receiving medical treatment, medical/wellness travelers will bring family members who take on the role of tourists, vacationing and taking advantage of all the historical artifacts, fords, caves, water sports and attractions the Caribbean islands have to offer.
Therefore, all price expectations should be clearly articulated, including all relevant taxes in order to support the reputation of the islands and protect the visiting clients and the integrity of the tourist destination.
Certification of service providers
While hotels, hospitals and specialty clinics know the importance of quality service, thought must also be given to obtaining a credible, recognized certification and accreditation. These are inherent costs in doing business in a local market and more importantly, with international clients, as the Caribbean is competing in a very competitive global marketplace.
We might ask: how does certification help with my bottom line or return on investment? There are many benefits to being certified, as it is a good marketing tool, enhances your brand, provides consistency in service delivery with your staff and improves foot traffic and visits to your website.
For example, a person who wishes to obtain a cosmetic procedure in a foreign country conducts personal research before speaking with a healthcare facilitator. The first stop in the research might be to ask a friend for a reference, ‘twitter’ others, seek web testimonials, or ‘Facebook’ friends. Upon receiving suggestions, he/she will begin the research process with a specific facility or physician.
Once on the particular entity’s website, the potential client looks for recognizable international industry certifications, and with today’s technology, they might search blogs, news articles or search engines to learn more about the doctor and facility. This certification provides value to a business, openness in doing business and enhances reputation. All of this is also beneficial for healthcare investors for the Caribbean islands.
After all, it is ALL about transparency, certification, and value for money and reputation.
About the Author:
Linda Merritt, JP, is Principal Associate of The Lily Group, a private health consulting company. She was appointed Chairman of the Bermuda Health Council in 2008 and is now serving her second term in this position. The Bermuda Health Council is responsible for the enhancement and regulations of the health care system in Bermuda and reports directly to the Minister of Health.
She serves on various Government and non-Profit boards and is an active member of the Bermuda community.
Her current endeavors include the promotion of Bermuda as a health and wellness designation and she partners with and influences Government entities and various health professionals in Bermuda and the Caribbean to assist in developing a state of the art health/wellness centre in Bermuda and use the island’s natural beauty to promote individual well-being.