The medical tourism industry in Puerto Rico has an opportunity for growth on the island, due to the worldwide spread of COVID-19, said Department of Economic Development and Commerce Secretary Manuel Laboy.
“The emergency due to the spread of COVID-19 in the United States allows Puerto Rico to be an option for the practice of medical tourism,” he said. “This is due to its geographical position, rapid intervention to decrease the spread of the virus; through safe and precise strategies, as well as the multiple challenges faced by hospital centers in the U.S. [mainland] and other parts of the world.”
Although tourism “will slowly recover, the medical tourism industry will recover first due to the demand of more than 1.4 million people in the United States who put their procedures on hold because they don’t have health insurance, or their deductibles are very high. Given this, Puerto Rico is an alternative because treatment costs are lower and our hospitals are highly regulated by federal entities,” said Laboy.
During fiscal year 2019-2020, the Department of Economic Development and Commerce made multiple efforts with the Royal Caribbean cruise line, as well as approaches to medical plans in the Caribbean islands, Mexico and Colombia, which resulted in an economic impact of more than $5 million to hospitals and medical offices, from more than 700 patient visits, he said.
Furthermore, he said Puerto Rico hotels and land transportation companies also benefited from some $522,000 in revenue, since patients come with a companion and the average stay is five days.
The economic benefit is expected to increase toward the end of the year as a result of marketing efforts, partnering with governments in the Caribbean Islands, and with medical plans and medical tourism consulting companies in South America, Laboy said.
Despite the emergency that Puerto Rico is going through due to the spread of COVID-19, hospitals and medical offices have certifications from the Joint Commission, as well as first-rate infrastructure, protocol and health personnel, he said.
According to a publication in the International Medical Travel Journal, “the destinations with the greatest possibility of receiving medical tourism patients after COVID-19 will be those that have demonstrated good performance in combating the virus, have excellent hospitals and doctors, and that offer domestic flights.”