A 2008 study by Deloitte listed Brazil, Costa Rica and Mexico as the countries in the Latin America with the greatest potential for inbound medical tourism, with medical costs ranging from 25 to 50 percent of U.S. averages. What are Latin America's prospects as a destination for medical tourists from outside the region, and what types of services and procedures have the most potential? How do intra-regional medical tourism flows—patients traveling within Latin America—factor into the equation?
Beatrice Rangel, director of AMLA Consulting in Miami Beach, Fla.: Over the past decade, U.S. patients have found that health care delivery has climbed to the top in the quality scale abroad while it crumbles at home. For many years now, U.S. citizens have traveled to Costa Rica, Argentina, Colombia, Brazil and Chile to get dental treatments that cost 20 percent of their cost in the United States. The same trend is visible in the fields of heart and joint replacement surgery as well as plastic surgery. To understand the presence and promise of medical tourism, however, one needs to examine other inductive factors. Notable among them is quality of the health services offered abroad. Quality starts with competence. Most doctors that provide top quality medical services in the developing world are trained in the United States and Europe. Culture is another important factor. Latin American doctors are very tied to their communities and are very highly regarded in their societies. They consequently have a reputation to protect and the best way to do so is by being caring and effective. Thus, most doctors in Latin America tend to go out of their way to keep patients happy. In Europe and the United States, patients are numbers and health practitioners only fear malpractice lawsuits. But given that their insurance takes care of this aspect of their profession they do not need to be caring. Costa Rica is already attracting a sizable number of baby boomer medical tourists. Mexico will also benefit from the aging of this demographic. Brazil holds an extraordinary competitive advantage thanks to the policies adopted by the Cardoso administration and left in place with enthusiasm by the Lula administration to promote the adoption of information technology in public health care outlets and to extend insurance to lower-income groups so that they can be treated in private clinics.