WASHINGTON, D.C. — Medical tourism as a regional force for economic growth, drawing on trends in wellness and sustainability in the Caribbean, drew stakeholders from more than a half-dozen countries in the region – including Cayman – to an annual forum in Washington, D.C.
The World Medical Tourism and Global Healthcare Congress from Sept. 20 to 24 included some 3,000 participants overall.
Among the presentations, developers for a proposed project in Grenada gave an extensive overview of plans for an all-inclusive health and wellness medical park, while Shomari Scott of Health City Cayman Islands focused on the newly established facility’s goal of providing high quality, affordable care.
“The goal is to continuously reduce the cost so everyone can afford [care],” including the cost of artificial heart implant surgery, Scott, who is Health City’s marketing director, said during the Caribbean regional forum session of the conference.
“The funny thing is, medical tourism is going to be the by-product. More people will come to retire to the Cayman Islands with primary and secondary care already there, and now there is tertiary care.”
The quality healthcare that already exists in Cayman was seen as a key element setting the islands apart from other countries in the region.
Grenada, the site for the proposed Mount Hartman Medical Park, for instance, is “a beautiful area, has good infrastructure, an airport and is a great place to retire,” said Bru Pearce, director of developer Envisionation Grenada, “so it was a clear advantage if we could solve the healthcare problem. Though they have successes with new hotels coming in, it’s not enough.”
In aiming to drive medical tourism, Envisionation found that education contributes about 30 percent of the island nation’s economy. The developers believe that alumni physicians from the medical school at Grenada’s St. George’s University might want to return at some point, and the location of the campus itself is a natural fit (near the airport, and along a pristine shoreline).
It is envisioned that St. George’s would become a teaching hospital, thus keeping interns on island rather than see them heading to the U.S. or U.K. for their residencies, and that a medical park would be built to support a national hospital.
“We are looking to attract medical procedures, research…and to convince people that rather than have your treatment at Johns Hopkins in the U.S., you can come to Grenada.” Patients’ hotel-style rooms are envisioned as having a sea view, with the entire facility in a park-like setting with nature trails and a dove sanctuary, a spa hotel and wellness center, a health science research center and other amenities.
“It’s really important that tourism clients can see this [the beauty of Grenada] and want to come,” said Pearce.
Absent, however, is a high level of healthcare, so the Envisionation partners are focusing on St. George’s University’s medical school as key to the project.
“Until the Caribbean becomes known as a center of health and wellness, we’ll still be struggling,” said Rolf Hoschitalek, director of Envisionation Grenada.
“We need to coalesce as a uniform body…a CARICOM-type collaboration, not as a country but as a region.”
Opportunities for medical tourism development in the region were underscored by speakers at the conference’s Caribbean Ministerial Summit, including Dr. Angus Friday, formerly with the World Bank and now Grenada’s ambassador to the United States.
He addressed the challenges of “building a billion-dollar industry in a small island developing state,” but cited encouraging signs, including the increased valuation of St. George’s University and the chancellor’s idea for a medical Free Trade Zone.
Dr. Neil Parsan, Trinidad and Tobago’s ambassador to the U.S., and chairman of the CARICOM Caucus of Ambassadors in Washington, underscored the theme, saying “There is ample opportunity for the development of medical tourism in the Caribbean.”
He pointed to several developments in 2016 for Trinidad and Tobago, including a children’s hospital, an oncology center and an opthalmic center.
Among the speakers at this session was Dr. Chandy Abraham, CEO and director of medical services for Health City Cayman Islands, representing the first established effort in the region aimed at drawing medical tourists. Dr. Chandy, like Shomari Scott who spoke earlier, noted the goal of providing high-quality affordable care, drawing on the vision of Dr. Devi Shetty, chairman and director of Narayana Health group of hospitals in India.
Dr. Shetty’s model in India “was able to reduce the cost of procedures in India, and the question was, would you be able to replicate this model outside of India?” Dr. Chandy told a group of Caribbean stakeholders.
He also outlined the cost-effective measures undertaken by Health City: operating efficiencies, lean management, use of technology, and eventually further scaling down prices as patient volume increases.
Little direct mention was made of medical tourism, the implication being that quality, affordable care would draw patients to the campus, which has expansion plans to ultimately include have 2,000 beds, a dedicated medical research university and an assisted living center.
A two-year statistical research project on three dimensions of medical tourism was unveiled by Marc Fetscherin, an associate professor of international business and marketing at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida.
The research, which involved multiple surveys of several thousand residents of the United States, outlining precise criteria, and developing a medical tourism index, which measures countries by perception of categories that included country environment (including political environment), destination attractiveness, medical tourism costs, and facilities and services.
“We assessed only what Americans think of tourism destinations, not other countries,” Dr. Fetscherin said.
The results of the medical tourism index (for 25 countries only, due to low response rates) show Americans rank Canada at the top, the U.K. second, followed by Israel, Singapore and Costa Rica.
The results, including for specific countries, can be viewed at http://www.medicaltourismindex.com/.
The index, according to the website, “is the worldwide reference point on the attractiveness of countries as medical tourism destinations, rating and analyzing the state of a country as a medical tourism destination, how it is positioned and should be positioned to increase the prosperity of its population.”
The “data tool” section of the site allows users to compare the index values to such secondary data as population, GDP per capita, Global Competitiveness Index and consumer expenditure on hospital services, among other findings.