Medical tourism to Mexico goes back decades, evolving from low-cost dental clinics in border towns to sophisticated surgeries in high-tech hospitals with prestigious credentials.
Today, the same factors driving growth in medical travel to other destinations – rising medical and health insurance costs – favor Mexico’s medical tourism outlook, while expanding the opportunities for U.S. travel agents.
But for Mexico there are challenges. Once poised for a boom, Mexico’s medical travel sector has slowed in those regions hard-hit by drug violence. Other regions have fared better, especially those with high-profile tourist destinations.
In the first of a two-part series, Travel Market Report provides an overview of Mexico’s medical tourism offering and the consumer market. Part two will examine the impact of security concerns on medical travel to Mexico.
Large U.S. market
With their large Spanish-speaking populations, U.S. border states have traditionally supplied the largest contingent of medical tourists to Mexico.
A 2009 study by UCLA’s Center for Health Policy Research found that each year almost 1 million people from California alone venture south of the border for medical, dental or prescription drug services in Mexico.
The study, which appeared in the journal Medical Care, cited the rising cost of care in the U.S. and lack of insurance as the two main reasons for travel into Mexico.
Fraction of the cost
The cost savings for U.S. medical travelers are huge, since prices of popular procedures in Mexico are often a fraction of what they are in the U.S.
For instance, a knee replacement that would cost $50,000 in the U.S. costs just $12,000 in Mexico, according to the nonprofit Medical Tourism Association. Other examples: dental implants are $1,800 in Mexico, compared to $2,800 in the U.S., and a facelift costs $4,900, compared to $15,000, according to the association.
Canadians go too
Canadians travel to Mexico as well, but not necessarily for the cost savings.
“Canadians go to Mexico because procedures they have to wait years for in Canada can be performed with no waiting period in Mexico,” said Patrick Osio, vice president and co-founder of the Baja California Medical Tourism Association.
Mexico’s expanded offering
In recent years, Mexico’s options for medical tourists have expanded beyond border clinics to cities such as Monterrey, Mexico City and Guadalajara.
A number of Mexican hospitals now boast prestigious international accreditations or affiliations with top American institutions such as the Mayo Clinic.
“Cities such as Monterrey made strategic efforts to position themselves as medical tourism destinations. And, they have some excellent hospitals,” said David Vequist, Ph.D., founder and director of the Center for Medical Tourism Research in San Antonio, Texas.
Medical facilities have U.S. ties
Some Mexican hospital chains are managed by American corporations. Others are owned by U.S.-based companies.
One example is Angeles Health International, a U.S. subsidiary of Mexico’s largest private hospital network, was formed specifically to attract American tourists to certain facilities.
Six Angeles Health facilities cater to American patients, offering dental and vision correction procedures, as well as bariatric, orthopedic, cardiac and cosmetic surgeries.
Medical tourism in resort areas
One area of growth for Mexico’s medical tourism is its resort destinations. “Places like Cancun or Cabo have developed the so-called vanity procedures – as opposed to cities such as Monterrey where you go for heart surgery,” Osio said.
Hotel chains in resort destinations also have paired with local hospitals to promote medical tourism programs.
Among them is Casa Velas Hotel Boutique in Puerto Vallarta, which markets medical tourism packages and bills itself as a “medical and health retreat,” complete with medical attention and organic meals.
Casa Velas partners with nearby Amerimed Hospital, where guests can arrange for “advanced elective procedures,” such as facelifts, tummy tucks, nose jobs, liposuction, breast reduction, gastric bypasses and cosmetic dentistry.
Next time: The impact of security concerns on medical tourism to Mexico.