Medical Tourism Congress in LA was Intriguing
by Susie Ellis, SpaFinder Insider
Am sharing notes I took on Day One of the Medical Tourism & Global Health Congress in Los Angeles earlier this week. (The notes in red are some of my personal thoughts.)
Am here at the Hyatt Century City at the World Medical Tourism and Global Health Congress ready for the intro session called Medical Tourism 101. (Can’t wait!) Dr. Jim McCormick is speaking and giving us a bit of an overview. One thing he emphasized, which I found interesting, is that it is more important to document than to have patients sign forms.
The session on Internet Marketing, Blogs, and Social Networking was next. It was so packed they had to repeat the entire session at another time to accommodate all who were interested. (This year every conference I have attended had a social media session and it was always the most popular.) 75 percent of Internet users research health decisions online. If you text “medical” to 78247 you can receive a copy of this presentation.
Medical Tourism is hot…and getting more competitive quickly. The most common procedure? Cosmetic dentistry. Second is weight-loss surgery. This doesn’t mean they are the greatest revenue-producers however they do more of these procedures than any other.
Now I am serving as an observer at the important Ministers Round Table Delegation. VIPs from various countries are sharing their medical tourism plans. David Morgan, from OECD (which includes 30 countries) reports that medical tourism is on their radar. They are working on clarifying definitional issues. Before the session began, he mentioned that he is interested in learning more about the spa and wellness arena. (Our industry needs to make itself known to him. Note to self…send him a link to the SRI report.)
The Minister from the Bahamas spoke. He emphasized that they are known for quiet, tranquility, and rest. Medical tourism is on their radar and they are planning to announce an initiative in early 2010.
The Cayman Islands rep spoke saying that financial services and tourism are their main industries. They plan to spend money from their tourism budget on MT in the future.
UAE spoke next. They mentioned a collaboration board formed with their Ministries of Health, Tourism, Economics, and Health Dept. He mentioned spas and medical spas as part of their vision. (My thought is…clearly the UAE folks have the most sophisticated medical tourism strategy of all the ones who have spoken so far.)
Barbados spoke. They are trumpeting peace, tranquility, and stability. George Washington visited his sick brother in Barbados before he was President. They have plans to be more involved in medical tourism. (Couldn’t help but note that those from the Caribbean are lagging behind in medical tourism – but at least they were here.)
Cynthia Carrion, Under Secretary for Sports and Wellness spoke for the Philippines. They want to be the hub for health and wellness. (Interesting that they are not using the term medical tourism.) Major emphasis is on prevention. They have a large English-speaking population, friendly hospitality, and COMPASSIONATE care. They even have medical butlers who take care of the medical traveler and their companion. She introduced Dr. Samuel Bernal who is world-famous for his experience with stem cells (he doesn’t use embryonic stem cells). Dr. Bernal is the doctor I was so impressed with when I heard him speak in the Philippines. I invited him to the Global Spa Summit last year however he couldn’t make it. I invited him again this year when the Summit will be held in Istanbul – and he said yes and is putting it on his calendar! He believes strongly in the value of spas in medical tourism.
South Africa was next. They have a history in medical tourism, which has developed organically – not so much because of government involvement. Now with government involvement, it should accelerate. (Hmm, am beginning to see that medical tourism is of great interest to some ministries of tourism as they jump in to capture visitors for their countries.) Some countries have a strong history of leadership in the medical field – like South Africa where Dr. Chris Barnard did the first heart transplant – and other countries don’t have a strong history but are trying to create strength in the medical arena going forward. (That probably won’t be so easy to do.)
Korea gave a very impressive presentation. They have been organized at the government level for three years. They are actually promoting Korea Health Care as a brand! (Clever.) They are not so much about medical tourism as they are about global health care. They seem to really be in high gear marketing mode here. They talked a lot about creating safe environments. Korea has a special visa just for medical travelers. They also have a medical call center with five different languages. Korea claims to have the most advanced health care in Asia. 50,000 – 70,000 patients come yearly to Korea for their health care. Korea is a huge sponsor here at the Congress. They want to get the word out about their global health care leadership.
Mexico shared that they are #2 in size behind Tokyo which is #1. Mexico is #8 in terms of wealth, and has good culture, etc. They are in the beginning stages of developing their medical tourism strategy.
A woman speaking for Dubai was next. (I thought that hers was the most impressive and forward-thinking medical tourism strategy presented. Dubai seems way ahead of any country here!) Dubai started by providing free health care for all its residents. They did research and strengthened their primary, secondary, and tertiary care. Dubai even insures their tourists! And they include spas as part of their overall medical tourism strategy. Dubai has medical centers at their airports which they consider very important in facilitating their medical tourism industry. Dubai is organized with the city handling service delivery and the ministry of health working on the overall strategy and goals. Dubai emphasizes the importance of data collection and sharing a database. (Having great financial resources and a clear goal helps one get their act together.)
The next topic was about medical tourism “concerns.” The following were brought up by: health of citizens, organ trafficking, the need for more more data and research, and the need for improved standards internationally.
During the lunch break I garnered some more “unofficial” insights. The country ahead globally in terms of medical tourism is India. (Interesting that no one at this ministry meeting was from India.) The U.S. isn’t represented here at the meeting either. Some feel that the U.S. is not on the ball when it comes to medical tourism. (Just another example, I suppose, o
f why the term health care crisis resonates with so many of us in the U.S.)
I spoke with the UAE and Dubai representatives. Very ahead in strategy. (Others tell me they need to catch up in terms of provider excellence.) Interesting that Dubai considers their spas as a very important part of their medical tourism strategy. They even mentioned to me that they are looking for more spas!
The head of Turkish medical tourism spoke. They have a history of thermal spas which are part of their medical tourism strategy. They see that spas are an opportunity as places where people spend time after surgery. The point is that after surgery, people can’t safely travel (especially fly) yet.
Apparently Singapore is backing off from medical tourism now because it is has become so expensive there, that they are no longer competitive from a price point of view.
In sum, it was a great day here at the World Medical Tourism & Global Health Congress. Very international and eye-opening for me, and probably for most who attended. The industry though very new, seems to be brimming with opportunity.
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