We are going to take a quick look at four countries, scattered across the Latin America, which make up some of the primary destinations for Medical Tourism. In this way, you can gather a basic picture of what is available on the international scene. You need much more information than is provided here to make a decision, but here is your starting point.
Brazil, once known mainly for its international practice in plastic surgery, is now actively seeking a wider role in Medical Tourism. More medical facilities have been accredited by the JCI in Brazil than in any country other than the United States and Singapore. In 2005, nearly 50,000 medical tourists visited Brazil – a number that is growing rapidly. Portuguese-speaking Brazil has quite a European feel, with about half of the population having primarily European roots. Medical costs in Brazil are about half of those found in the United States – not the least expensive, but Brazil does have active legal protection against malpractice and fraud. The standard and style of care are quite similar to that encountered in Western facilities, with several hospitals in Sao Paolo being considered among the world’s finest. Brazil requires visas for American visitors as reciprocation for the US requirement that Brazilian tourists have visas.
Costa Rica, the only Latin American country counted among the world’s 22 older democracies, has been a popular Medical Tourism destination for cosmetic surgery and dental care for the United States, attracting over 20,000 medical tourists each year to Central America. San Jose is gaining favor as a destination for more intensive medical care, having 6 private hospitals (3 of which have JCI accreditation) and 22 public hospitals. The cost of medical procedures and aftercare services are about 30-40% of US prices. The largely volcanic geography lends to a marvelous ecotourism experience. No visas are required for stays up to 90 days.
The proximity of Mexico to the United States makes it a primary destination for Medical Tourism, even though the costs are not as low as are found elsewhere in the world. Dental care is a major goal, as most procedures can be accomplished during a day trip just across the border. Medical costs are generally 25-35% of the equivalent US costs. Although Mexico’s laws make bring suit for malpractice extraordinarily difficult, about 90% report that the care received in Mexico was good or excellent – a better report than received by the American health system! The close integration of the border region economies makes determination of the number of Americans seeking medical treatment in Mexico difficult, but it is clear that the number is in the millions and growing rapidly.
Panama has remarkable tourist attractions, a thoroughly Americanized culture and economy, and has the safest and most modern capital city in Central America. Given the proximity to the United States, it is not surprising that the role of Panama as a Medical Tourism destination is rapidly growing. English is widely spoken, and Panama’s doctors are largely US-trained. At present, only a few thousand medical tourists visit Panama per year, partially because the medical costs are relatively high for a Medical Tourism destination – about 50% of US rates. However, the lack of culture shock in the Medical Tourism experience is worth the additional expense to a growing number of international patients.