Mexico is gearing up for a boom in medical tourism as the ageing U.S. population heads south not just for sun and sand but also “treatments and surgeries”.
“A million baby boomers, as they are called in the US, could come to live in Mexico in the coming years,” said Mexican Health Minister Jose Angel Cordova Villalobos.
In coordination with other federal agencies, the Health Ministry plans to build up the country’s medical tourism infrastructure during the next two years.
The initiative includes training a corps of bilingual Spanish-English nurses, and a push to increase the number of private Mexican hospitals accredited by a joint US-Mexico commission. Cordova told Mexidata.info that eight such private institutions have been certified under the commission’s standards.
Regional initiatives to promote medical tourism are underway in the northern border states of Chihuahua, Baja California and Nuevo Leon, Cordova said greater coordination at the federal level is needed to tap a global market enjoyed by nations including Thailand, India, Costa Rica and Brazil, which are targeting the growth in medical tourism.
Pilot programmes to train bilingual nurses are currently in the preparation stage, and one strategy being adopted to reduce the risk of brain drain to higher pay offered in the US is to focus the training on higher-tier sectors of the Mexican health care delivery such as plastic surgery and other specialized treatments.
In a traditional Mexican tourist town such as Puerto Vallarta, there are already indications that cheaper treatment fees for coincidental visits to the doctor or dentist are being noticed and appreciated by tourists.
The success of the Mexican Ministry of Health’s medical tourism initiative will depend on various trends related to the socioeconomic, political and security situations at the borders of both countries. Right now the current levels of violence in the border region will likely affect the potential growth in the short-term. Depending upon the outcome of the health care reform in the US, and whether costs are increased as a result of the legislation being passed, the initiative would have better chances of succeeding.
In the US, meanwhile, the issue of dental treatment has been virtually absent from the so-called health care reform debate. But a glance at rates charged by Mexican dentists quickly reveals a continued, major attraction for both tourists and prospective immigrants.
After three years in business at the site, Portuguez and Carrillo estimate that 40 percent of their patients are foreigners during the tourist high season which spans the months from October to March.