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Is corporate medical tourism the next niche?

February 16, 2015

For its proximity to the United States, well-trained health professionals, and lower-cost, high-quality health services, Costa Rica has long attracted tens of thousands of medical tourists. The medical tourism numbers for 2011 won’t be out until April, but the Council for International Promotion of Costa Rica Medicine (PROMED) did give The Tico Times a preview of one main focus this year and next: corporate medical tourism.

As companies like PepsiCo Inc. have started providing employees with travel surgery benefits, PROMED has aimed to position Costa Rica as a prime destination.

In 2011, PROMED staff visited more than 15 medical tourism providers in the country, and provided them with tools and training. The privately owned nonprofit, which is responsible for promoting Costa Rican medical care internationally, also organized eight tours of insurance companies, self-funded employers, insurance brokers and benefit managers.

PROMED Executive Director Massimo Manzi pointed out that Costa Rica now has 28 internationally accredited clinics, the most of any country in Latin America. The clinics have been accredited by one of three bodies: Joint Commission International, the American Association for Accreditation of Ambulatory Surgery Facilities and the Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care.

Additionally, PROMED and the Costa Rican Tourism Board are preparing for the 2012 Medical Travel International Business Summit, which will take place in the western San José suburb of Escazú April 23-25. In 2011, PROMED reported that the summit generated 1,000 appointments and opportunities in aesthetics, orthopedics and diabetes treatment. This year, the summit is set to facilitate more than 1,000 business meetings between 75 international medical-care buyers and 75 medical-care suppliers in Costa Rica.

“For the third time, Costa Rica will host the biggest event of medical tourism in Latin America,” said Tourism Minister Allan Flores. “We’ll have eminent personalities and experts in public health issues, patient safety and marketing of services.”

In addition to the summit, Costa Rica has bid for the 2013 Self-Insurance Institute of America International Conference.

The timing of these events is ideal, Manzi said, pointing to a new Pepsi program that connects employees with Johns Hopkins Hospital in the U.S. city of Baltimore, Maryland, for cardiac and complete joint-replacement surgeries. Pepsi’s travel-surgery benefit is currently being offered only to domestic employees and their dependents – in total, about 250,000 people – but Manzi said the cost-effectiveness of sending employees to other countries for heath services will eventually win out.

“Costa Rica is … attracting the attention of North American corporations, insurance companies, and administrators of private and self-insured corporations impressed by the quality and affordability of the nation’s health care,” Manzi said. “The progress of the corporate medical travel market is probably good news for us all.”

PROMED is still accepting registrations for the 2012 Medical Travel Summit at the Real InterContinental Hotel in Escazú. Registration is $400 for PROMED members and $450 for nonmembers. Online registration is available at www.themedical  travelsummit.com/event-registration.

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