Puerto Rico takes on Medical Tourism Industry

With healthcare costs in the U.S. increasing at a rate of 6-percent a year , Latin America has always been a viable solution for Americans looking to save money. Now, a growing number of Americans are looking to our own backyard for their "medical tourism" needs. Puerto Rico has become a top destination of choice for those attempting to bypass the high costs of healthcare in the mainland United States.

According to the Medical Tourism Association, a global non-profit organization raising awareness on medical tourism, Puerto Rico is joining the game of vying for the billions of dollars spent by people seeking cheaper healthcare abroad.

"Puerto Rico is becoming a prime destination for American medical tourists," said Renee-Marie Stephano, President of the Medical Tourism Association based out of West Palm Beach, FL.

"Since Puerto Rico is just gaining momentum, it cannot be compared to other countries, but it could catch up very fast," said Stephano.

The Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, an organization that has monitored medical travel abroad, estimated 1.3 million Americans would receive medical services abroad in 2012, with a growth rate of 35-percent per year. That's over 2.1 billion dollars a year spent on healthcare services in other countries, costing the United States billions of dollars in lost revenue.

Countries like Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, Brazil and Venezuela have supported the American demand for cheaper healthcare abroad. Procedures can include anything from orthopedic surgery on hips, knees, back and spine, to cosmetic procedures like breast implants and face-lifts.

Other top destinations for international medical tourists include India, Thailand and other Asian countries.

According to the International Federation of Health Plans, a hip replacement in the U.S. on average would cost around $38,017. In Argentina, that same procedure would cost $3,589. A CT head scan in the U.S. goes for a commercial average of $510 or more. In Chile, that same procedure will cost around $184, and in countries like India, can be as low as $48.

In Puerto Rico, procedures like orthopedic surgery, cardiovascular disease treatment, oncology, neurology procedures, and many more, can be done for 60 to 80-percent less than in the mainland United States and with the same standards.

As a U.S. territory, in Puerto Rico all hospitals are required to comply with the U.S. infrastructure standards and be staffed by board certified physicians.

"It is American healthcare at much more affordable prices," said Stephano.

The cost for supporting infrastructure of healthcare in Puerto Rico is almost 70 to 80-percent less according to the Medical Tourism Association. The cost of labor for doctors and nurses, healthcare supplies, and equipment, all contribute to Puerto Rico's lower prices, while still maintaining a U.S. standard.

Plus, as a United States citizen, travel to Puerto Rico is fast and simple. U.S. Citizens don't require visa or a passport; just a government issued identification card.

Since most medical procedures abroad are outpatient, which can include anything from breast implants to dentistry, the patient can be sent home within hours of the surgery, making farther destinations a bit more complicated. Puerto Rico doesn't have that problem.

"When traveling to a medical facility away from home, patients look for three qualities – ease of travel, value and high quality of services, and a safe leisure tourism haven. Puerto Rico has all three," wrote the Puerto Rico Tourism Company on their website. http://www.seepuertorico.com/

Many tourism agencies in Puerto Rico have been attempting to take advantage of that ease, creating travel packages for potential American patients. They offer activities like excursions, shopping, and cultural events, all to be enjoyed before or after the procedure.

"At the present there are over 70 hospital facilities, some that have partnerships with hotels," writes the company.

"There are also six approved projects that integrate hotel and hospital facilities."

One of those facilities is the 104-room Hyatt place, with the El Tropical Casino, that sits adjacent to the San Pablo HIMA Bayamón Hospital.

"The Puerto Rico Tourism Company has also provided training and presentations for members of the industry, including hotels and hospitals," said Luis Rivera-Marin, Executive Director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company.

"These efforts are meant to create awareness of this market, and bring members of the industry together to begin a collaborative effort in promoting PR as a medical tourism destination."

As the price of healthcare in the United States continues to rise, Puerto Rico, and many other Latin American countries, will continue to do just that – open their doors to a rising industry.

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