Several decades after the term was first tossed around as a potential revenue-generator for Puerto Rico, high-ranking government officials announced Tuesday the start of a formal effort to develop medical tourism as an economic sector for the island.
During a news conference, Economic Development and Commerce Secretary Alberto Bacó outlined a strategy meant to position Puerto Rico as a go-to destination for patients seeking care provided under U.S. quality standards and regulations.
In three years, that effort is expected to pump $200 million and 3,000 jobs into the local economy, with the arrival and treatment of some 30,000 patients, he said.
“Puerto Rico has a number of advantages that make it a very competitive destination for medical tourism development: we have the same legal structure and the same federal standards that apply to the healthcare industry in the United States,” said Bacó.
“We have certified medical professionals, bilingual in-hospital staff, as well as other components of the industry, such as hotels and transport. Americans citizens do not need a passport to come to the island and that eases their move to Puerto Rico. Additionally, we provide tax incentives so that providers can export their services from Puerto Rico,” he said, flanked by the heads of Puerto Rico Trade and Export and the Puerto Rico Tourism Co., which, along with the Health Department, are also in on the effort.
The collaboration among these agencies helped to define the legal, administrative and operational framework that will regulate the provision of services related to this industry through the newly established Medical Tourism Corporation of Puerto Rico.
The Medical Tourism Corporation will be responsible for training and certifying service providers and regulating the operation and logistics of such services on the island, for which it has hired the Medical Tourism Association. For this, the entities have been assigned between $1.5 million and $2 million to develop the first-year initiatives, Bacó said.
“The idea is to provide seed funding for the first two years, after which the entity will have to be self-sustainable through the contributions made by the providers included in the network,” he added.
The Medical Tourism Corporation will also launch a promotion plan to position the island as a destination for certain types of medical treatment.
As part of the process to structure the industry, Bacó said the government hired local firm Advantage Business Consulting to analyze the current market to identify the potential for Puerto Rico. The study concluded, among other things, that medical costs in Puerto Rico are between 40 percent and 60 percent cheaper than in the U.S. mainland.
The main areas of opportunity are in services, dental treatment, cardiology, orthopedics, bariatric surgery, cancer, neurosurgery, gynecology, infertility procedures, pediatrics, ophthalmology and some cosmetic surgery procedures, the study found.
In its initial phase, the development strategy for medical tourism will focus on maximizing opportunities in the Caribbean and the U.S. mainland market, with a focus on insurance companies, self-insured companies and suppliers.
“We designed a platform that offers opportunities to build a new economic conglomerate that goes beyond medical treatment, including hotels, hospitals, tour operators, carriers and airlines, among others. Finally we have laid the groundwork to position ourselves as leaders this segment in the Caribbean,” said for her part Tourism Co. Executive Director Ingrid Rivera.
Among the immediate steps the government will follow to boost the medical tourism industry, is certifying providers in cooperation with the Medical Tourism Association. The entity will also open a call for proposals to get the plan going and implement a strategy to promote Puerto Rico, starting by participating in the Medical Tourism World Congress.
Medical tourism already exists
Puerto Rico has been involved, albeit informally, in the medical tourism sector for the better part of the last decade, during which individual doctors and hospitals have provided specialized services to off-island residents. It is estimated that some 200 doctors offer treatment to visiting patients, Economic Development and Commerce figures show.
Although the economic impact of that activity was not quantified, members of the sector’s Medical Tourism Cluster were interviewed for the research conducted to arrive at the strategy discussed Tuesday, Bacó said.