Reader’s Letter: Medical tourism could become just as important as the timeshare sector

POSTED: 05/16/11 12:25 PM

Dear Editor,

News that a Florida-based Advanced Orthopedic Center is looking to set-up a multi-disciplinary clinic on the island to cater to residents and visitors is most welcomed – medical tourism. Discussions have already taken place with government officials and the talks to date have been described as of an “exploratory” nature.
Medical tourism is a new trend in the healthcare industry and is gaining popularity especially in developed countries. The medical tourism market has grown significantly and could reach $100 billion dollars by 2012. People seeking medical treatment abroad do so for various reasons. A May 2008 McKinsey and Company report regarding medical tourism indicated that 40 percent of medical travelers sought advanced technology, while 32 percent sought better health care; another 15 percent seek faster medical services and nine percent are looking for lower costs.
Most US citizens traveling abroad for medical services usually choose the following categories of medical tourism procedures: dental, cosmetic, orthopedic and cardiovascular. Americans go to Mexico, Costa Rica or Panama for dental or cosmetic surgeries due to their close proximity to the US while those for orthopedic and cardiovascular cases go to Southeast Asia and India.
Business organizations in the US are looking at offering offshore medical treatments for their employees because it would be a considerable savings for them. Insurance companies are also collaborating with global healthcare companies to provide overseas options to members.
The Caribbean overall and St. Maarten in particular have much to benefit from the development of medical tourism, and those islands that already have a certain level of infrastructure, airlift etc., will be at the forefront of this new phenomenon. Our proximity to the US alone is a key asset.
Dr. Devi Shetty is an investor who will be constructing a 2000-bed hospital two billion Cayman dollar investment in the Cayman Islands in order to exploit medical tourism. Construction is expected to start in September or October with the first phase to open in early 2013. This part of the investment is valued at 100 million dollars. The Healthcare accreditation organization Joint Commission International has already accredited Dr. Shetty’s heart hospital in Bangalore, Southern India.
The Cayman hospital will be called Narayana Cayman University Medical Centre, which would operate under Joint Commission International standards. The first phase involves the construction of a 150-bed hospital that will provide tertiary care currently not available in the Cayman Islands, including open-heart surgery, cancer treatments, bone marrow transplants and organ transplants.
A 1,500-unit assisted living section, a hospital, a medical education facility, a medical research unit and wellness, rejuvenation and recovery facility, will be housed in 10 buildings, to be constructed over the next 15-years. The assisted living would be built over the next 10-years.
The benefits for the Cayman Islands includes access for Cayman residents to more medical care on the island, unlimited employment opportunities, spending from medical tourists and training and education opportunities at the medical centre’s medical university. The hospital expects to cater to 120 patients per day in its first year of operation and eventually expand to 1, 400 a day when fully operational. Patients would stay on the island for an average of nine and a half days.
The medical tourism market is a niche market. Approximately 1.3 million Americans are expected to seek medical care outside of the United States this year. This number is projected to increase annually by 35 per cent.
The spinoffs identified for the Cayman economy is the tourism sector, restaurants, hotels, taxi drivers and other hospitality service providers. The medical tourism sector could become just as important as the timeshare sector on the island.

Roddy Heyliger

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