The reality of medical tourism

Medical tourism was discussed during November’s Healthcare 20/20 conference at the Ritz-Carlton, and it was Dr. Devy Shetty who grasped the nettle with a presentation to delegates. Shetty faced questions from a lively floor which was notable for its high percentage of Caymanian health care professionals in attendance.

In particular, there were harsh words from Dr. Steve Tomlinson, who said that he found some of the perceived statements from the doctor as impudent and repugnant. Shetty responded that he was sorry for any confusion because the facility would be a tertiary care facility, a sector not at present served by the current hospitals, which he said were excellent.

The cardiologist had been forthright in his praise for the Cayman Islands, naming it the world’s best medical destination. He also referred to the destination as the world’s best kept secret and quoted figures of a 60 per cent reduction as compared to medical fees in the United States and an additional 5 per cent every year thereafter.

Cayman, said the doctor, has close proximity to the world’s largest health care industry and therefore had an unparalleled opportunity to attract patients and medical tourists.

Shetty responded to a question about how the planned medical centre would benefit Caymanian physicians by giving assurances that the primary objective would be to hire local talent in every sphere. He noted that heart surgeons’ wages were on a par in India and the United States, so there was no real financial incentive for them to travel to seek work. The assumption, he conceded, had been that the country would be flooded with overseas workers, but that would be a short-sighted plan.

It was in the centre’s interest to develop Caymanian talent, he said, but also explained that he felt Cayman would be in the unique position of attracting high-level talent in physicians because it is a safe place to settle down and raise a family, there is a low incidence of infectious diseases and there is good banking and stable government. He added that there also would be tax advantages for medical superstars to come here to work.

Cayman would also benefit, he said, from the planned health care centre, which also is set to include biotech research and outreach tertiary care. There would be speciality health care facilities, unlimited employment opportunities and a world-class university of health.

Because health care is not a cyclical process, medical tourism is a stable business. Medical tourists spent 2.000 per cent more than a regular vacationer, and this would mean it was a very good foreign exchange earner for the country.

In the future, the world will be dominated by service and Cayman has an opportunity to lead the world as capital of healthcare. The health care centre would be looking to attract 50 per cent of its customers from the United States and Canada, 30 per cent from the Caribbean and 20 per cent from South America. A study by research firm Deloitte had revealed that 1.3 million Americans had gone abroad for healthcare in 2008. Altogether, the world market for global healthcare was $4.5 trillion, he said, so Cayman would only need to be able to tap into a tiny percentage of that market to be successful. Even without the American market, he said that he was confident there would be enough demand in the Caribbean to sustain the project.

Other elements of the health complex would include biotech research; in the United States, laboratories are often restricted in what they can utilise and research. As Cayman would not have the same rules as its neighbours to the north, companies could be attracted here to do their research. He said that Obamacare in America would lead simply to longer waiting lists and that the widening out of the safety net of socialised medicine presented an opportunity for the private sector to benefit financially.

“The most profitable hospital [can be] built on a ship docked beyond United States waters,” he said.

The health care centre will be looking to attract 50 per cent of its customers from the United States and Canada,

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