Medical tourism is the process in which persons travel to another country for medical or health and wellness services. The medical tourism industry is flourishing rapidly, driven by more well-informed individuals searching for quality, affordability, availability and accessibility in healthcare, all in an attractive and safe tourism destination.
According to market research experts, Mordor Intelligence (MI), the global medical tourism sector was estimated to be worth US $15.4 billion in 2017 and growing at a rate of 8.5% between 2018 and 2023. The medical tourism guide book, Patients Beyond Borders 2017 (PBB), estimated that global medical tourism travellers spend an average of between US$3,800 – $6,000 per medical visit, with the USA being the largest source market, no doubt due to the increasingly high cost of healthcare in America. According to PBB, an American traveller could save up to 90 % of the medical costs from his/her home country by seeking that service across borders. The Global Buyers Survey (2017), revealed that 60 % of medical travellers seek cosmetic/plastic/aesthetic surgeries or treatments, while a significant number also travel to undergo orthopaedic or oncology/cancer treatments.
Some of the leading countries that have taken up the opportunities that the thriving medical industry presents include: Asia- Malaysia, India, Thailand; Latin America – Costa Rica and Mexico; Caribbean – the Bahamas and Cayman Islands. The leading source markets for these services include the USA, Europe, the UK in particular, and Canada.
Barbados, a high profile, mature tourism destination which attracts visitors from around the world, but particularly from the UK, USA and Canada, is well positioned to fully engage this industry. The country’s prominence was endorsed when it emerged as the number one destination in the world for traveller satisfaction, according to the 2017 Destination Satisfaction Index (DSI), by the tourism research company Norstat. Other characteristics that make Barbados appealing for medical tourism services include the country’s proximity to both North and South America, excellent infrastructure, easy international accessibility, high medical healthcare standards and skilled medical practitioners. Interestingly, as far back as 1751, Barbados was recognised for its apparent healing qualities – clean air, refreshing sea breeze and uplifting sunshine – when 19-year old George Washington, America’s future first President, came to the island seeking medical treatment and recovery for his ailing brother, Lawrence.
Committed to encouraging the growth of the sector, the government established a health and wellness taskforce to develop the medical tourism sector and attract patients from outside the region. A 2017 Global Buyers survey by Global Healthcare Resources revealed that safety is a major concern for medical travellers, paramount to their destination decision. Barbados is considered a very safe high, quality destination where tourists, especially those from North America and Europe, can feel secure and comfortable while undergoing treatment. Barbados is also ranked as one of the top jurisdictions in Latin America and the Caribbean conducive to conducting business.
According to a 2017 study by Labonté et al, Barbados spends more on healthcare than any other country in the Caribbean and Central American region. This prioritization of the domestic healthcare sector complements the country’s emerging medical health tourism sector that currently includes the internationally renowned and accredited Barbados Fertility Clinic – a state of the art in-vitro fertilization centre – as well as the 4H Hospital located within the Sparman Clinic – a wellness centre – both of which are successfully offering quality care to medical travellers.
To capitalise fully on the opportunities in the growing international medical tourism industry, Barbados is moving to create the appropriate enabling environment to facilitate the ongoing establishment of similar facilities. This involves a strategic approach encompassing all stakeholders to streamline processes such as licensing/accreditation, work permits, training and accommodation, among other key considerations.
The demand for international medical education has also grown considerably over the years, resulting in an upsurge in offshore schools around the world, including in China, India and the Caribbean. These private, for-profit institutions attract students from across the globe, particularly from North America and India.
Over the past six years, Barbados has proven to be a particularly attractive location for the establishment of offshore medical schools, recording encouraging success in this area with six international medical schools already on-island, and plans in train to accommodate the acclaimed Ross University School of Medicine from January 2019. These schools cater to a diverse student population drawn mainly from Canada, the USA, India and Nigeria.
The shortage of physicians and medical trainees, especially in the USA and Canada, high demand for places in medical schools in these countries, together with the availability, easy accessibility and affordability of medical education offshore in a safe location like Barbados, should see the continuing demand for international medical education. The growth of medical schools will create more jobs and generate much needed foreign exchange for the host nations. They also provide many positive spillover effects, particularly in the tourism, hospitality, housing and transportation sectors.
The Barbados Government continues to enhance the country’s legislative and regulatory framework to ensure that Barbados remains a compelling choice for higher education and, equally, that those that are operational adhere to globally accepted best practice standards.
Medical tourism and offshore schools present exciting new opportunities for the expansion of the Barbados economy, with the backward and forward linkages to other sectors being generally positive.
The Invest Barbados team looks forward to ongoing facilitation of investment in both medical tourism and medical schools.