More than 250 businesses from 15 countries will gather April 24-26 in Playa Herradura, on the central Pacific coast, for the fourth annual International Medical Tourism Conference. The summit, which was introduced Wednesday morning at the Costa Rican Tourism Board (ICT), will feature speakers, presentations and workshops geared toward helping develop the industry.
“The medical tourism industry is experiencing important development, and this conference, as the largest event of its kind in Latin America, is a clear example of how Costa Rica is a leader in this field,” said Jorge Cortés, president of the Council for International Promotion of Costa Rican Medicine (PROMED).
With rising health-care costs in developed countries, Costa Rica has become a hotspot for North Americans looking for a cheaper alternative for expensive medical procedures. According to the Medical Tourism Corporation, procedures are generally between 50-70 percent cheaper in Costa Rica than in the United States, often allowing tourists to pay for the procedure, flight and a vacation while still saving money.
In 2011, 48,000 medical tourists visited Costa Rica, the ICT estimates. Each spent an average of $7,000 while in the country. The ICT and PROMED have set a goal of 100,000 medical tourists annually, for a total of $800 million of revenue in 2013.
This year the conference will focus on three areas: expanding medical tourism outside the Central Valley, finding new medical niches to draw more patients and forming new medical alliances.
Rural medical tourism
Much of Costa Rica’s medical infrastructure is predictably located near San José, where more than half the country’s population resides. But in a nation full of beautiful beaches and rain forests, few tourists find spending all their time in the city ideal.
For the first time, this year’s conference will be held outside the Central Valley to encourage medical tourism development in other regions.
“We want the benefits of this type of tourism to expand to other sectors as well,” Tourism Minister Allan Flores said. “We are finding ways for these benefits to extend to the entire country.”
Opening new markets
This month’s conference will also explore new, complex and experimental medical treatments. Topics include transplants, regenerative therapy, orthopedics, jaw implants and wellness programs.
The summit also will explore ideas to expand patient bases in Canada and Europe, where medical tourism is less popular than in the U.S.
“As a country we need to continue working on international promotion and on the preparation of our medical providers,” Cortés said. “This congress is a unique opportunity to market our health and tourism services.”
PROMED and health-care providers in Costa Rica have linked up with international health insurance companies to make medical procedures more affordable. Currently CIGNA, Michelin and the BlueCross BlueShield of Oklahoma and Kansas have signed on to include certain Costa Rican providers in their plans.
For more information or to register, see: www.themedicaltravelsummit.com.