Medical tourism is a becoming a booming business worldwide and Cayman is looking for its slice of the pie.
Recently, Premier McKeeva Bush, health minister Mark Scotland and other government and health officials visited Bangalore in India to look at a huge new hospital there, run by an heart surgeon and entrepreneur who is considering opening a 2,000-bed hospital in Cayman.
If established locally, the hospital would cater for Americans seeking medical treatment abroad that they cannot afford back home.
No memorandum of understanding has been signed between heart specialist Dr. Devi Shetty and the Cayman Islands government, although the government has indicated that it would fully support moves to introduce the hospital to Cayman.
However, the venture would be entirely privately funded, Minister Scotland has said.
In October, . Scotland and Bush attended the World Medical Tourism and Global Health Congress in Los Angeles on a fact–finding mission to establish if Cayman can position itself as a destination for medical tourism.
“The way the health care system in the United States is going… it is obvious that medical tourism outside the US is going to grow. I think our health care industry sees that for themselves. There are a lot of new facilities opening up here,”. Scotland said at the time.
Scotland’s remarks are backed up by a new study just released in the US. It predicts outbound medical tourism from the United States could reach over 1.6 million patients by 2012, representing annual growth of 35 per cent.
The report from the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions is entitled ‘Medical Tourism: Update and Implications’ and is designed to bring Deloitte’s 2008 on the medical tourism industry up to date in the light of the recession.
That survey took in some 3,000 Americans and found that outbound tourism was set to exponentially increase in the next five years.
According to the report, healthcare costs are increasing at eight per cent per year, which is above the Consumer Price Index and therefore cuts into disposable income and corporate profits. Concurrently, the safety and quality of care in offshore destinations is now regulated by accrediting body the Joint Commission International and customers are more willing to pursue treatment abroad in the light of these quality assurances.
In 2007, an estimated 750,000 Americans went abroad for medical care and the report stated that by 2010 this would increase to six million per annum. The increases would trail off after this date, said the report, due to factors including supply capacity, health plans not covering services abroad, more aggressive US competition and potential government policies.
By 2017 it is estimated that 15.75 million Americans could be travelling abroad for procedures as individuals seek greater control over decisions that affect their medical care.
The report noted that the easy access to information on the internet was a factor in individuals becoming medical customers rather than patients. It said that some care procedures in India, Thailand and Singapore could cost as little as 10 per cent of the comparable procedure in the United States, even when airfare and hotel stays are taken into consideration.
In the 2008 survey, the 3,000 respondents were posed a series of questions. When asked whether they would consider going out of their community or local areas to get care or treatment for a condition if they knew the outcomes were better and the costs were no higher there, 88 per cent said they would. Meanwhile, 39 per cent said they would consider an elective procedure in a foreign country if they could save 50 per cent or more and be assured the quality was equal to or better than in the United States.
The report noted that there were initiatives going on throughout the world to attract medical tourism, including a US$318 million project in Taiwan to further develop the country’s medical services, whilst in Malaysia the government has increased the allowed stay under a medical visa from 30 days to six months.
Savings for American customers for elective surgical procedures were anything between 28 and 88 per cent depending on the location and procedure. For example, the in-patient price for knee surgery was $11,692 and out-patient price $5,686 but the same was $1,398 abroad, based on an average of the three lowest foreign prices including travel cost.
The report projected that by 2017 between $30.3 and 79.5 billion would be spent overseas by outbound medical tourists which could cost US health care providers anything from 228.5 to 599.5 billion dollars.
Inbound medical tourism to the US during 2008 came to $5 billion from a total of 40,000 non-US residents. The report said that it was not a cost-based inbound decision on these patients’ part but largely due to the perception that US-based medical care offered higher quality and shorter waiting times