The National Competitiveness Council, the Dominican Association of Health Tourism, the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Public Health hosted the presentation of the Study and Diagnosis of Health Tourism in the Dominican Republic, the national development strategy for the sector and proposal of a seal of quality for providers of health tourism.
On May 7th, Lourdes Russa, author of the aforementioned study, showed the results of the research, which talks about the potential of the Dominican Republic as a health tourism destination.
The Study and Diagnosis of Health Tourism in the Dominican Republic is supported on primary research, performed by a group of experts led by Lourdes Russa in a joint effort by the National Council of Competitiveness and the Dominican Health Tourism Association, in order to identify its comparative advantages concerning other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean; as well as the challenges that must be faced to turn the country into a competitive, sustainable, and internationally recognized medical tourism destination.
Health tourism is a growing activity at an international level, closely related to the globalization of health services, an increasingly aging population, and the tendency for patients to seek accessible and cost-effective aesthetic and medical treatments.
The main services sought by medical travelers worldwide are dental, general surgery, plastic surgery, cardiovascular surgery, orthopedic surgery, ophthalmology, treatments for infertility, cancer, and weight loss procedures.
In the wellness niche, the essential services are those related to nutrition and healthy
activities like yoga, spa, meditation, hydrotherapy, among others.
The movement of people from their respective homes and regions, either for medical or wellness purposes, carries logistical, cultural, bio-ethical, patient’s rights and compliance, and legal implications on the quality of the services offered. In that sense, it is imperative to have adequate human and financial resources, as well as legislative measures that allow the strengthening and regulation of such a journey.
The transverse effect of the appropriate development of medical tourism in a country contributes to:
- Strengthening local medicine through compliance with local regulations and international
- Promoting competition based on quality, innovation, and results;
- The building and investments on new infrastructure in acute-care, ambulatory facilities; and wellness hotels;
- The attraction of foreign currency and overall financial industry investments;
- Knowledge and technology transfer;
- Job growth and business sustainability;
The main medical tourism markets in Latin America are Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia, Brazil, Cuba, Panama, and the Dominican Republic.
Some of the best practices of these destinations include the development of policies and programs to promote the creation of public-private partnerships and clusters, which bring together members of the supply and value chain to better adapt to the country’s offering for the benefit of locals and tourists.
The Dominican Republic has taken steps for establishing as a key destination for health tourism.
According to the Medical Tourism Index (MTI) 2016-2017, a biannual ranking gathered by the
International Healthcare Research Center (IHRC), with the collaboration of the Medical Tourism Association (MTA), the country ranks 15th out of 41 countries studied, leading the Caribbean region.
Their health and wellness offerings for international visitors predominantly includes private hospitals with state-of-the-art technology, plastic surgery clinics, and dental offices.
Although no acute-care facility, private clinic, or ambulatory organization has Joint Commission International (JCI), Health Standards Organization (HSO), or Global Healthcare Accreditation (GHA) accreditation, several entities are in the process of obtaining such international standards.
However, Espaillat Cabral Institute (an ophthalmology clinic) recently achieved the Healthcare Facilities Accreditation Program (HFAP).
Obtaining international accreditation is an important milestone for healthcare organizations in the Dominican Republic to consider. The related impact of improving various topics in patient safety and patient care, including but not limited to infection control practices, clinical guidelines, training and education of healthcare professionals, and the ability to attract international talent, serves as multipliers.
Similarly, the development of a local quality seal that identifies qualified providers of health services to the international community is crucial.
Health tourism services in the Dominican Republic are predominantly located in Santo Domingo, Punta Cana, La Romana, Puerto Plata, and Santiago.
The educational and professional experience of the medical personnel in the Caribbean country is well established and credible; however, it is vital to reach an effective system of medical re-certifications for specialists that guarantee their ongoing exposure and completion of continuous medical education updating.
Regarding the education, language capabilities, and professional experience of the technical and ancillary personnel, the evaluation concluded that it needs proper management to ensure that the Dominican Republic has a comprehensive product offering to medical and wellness travelers.
Moreover, medical tourism facilitators and post-procedure recovery centers require further regulations that guarantee the transparency and quality of their services.
The highest demand for medical and health tourism services in the Dominican Republic are mainly dental treatments, plastic surgery, and outpatient assistance.
Surgery care costs an average of US$ 5,000.00. The country offers competitive prices when compared to similar medical services in other health destinations in Latin American.
Regarding the market of the Dominican Republic, medical travelers are mainly from the Caribbean islands and the United States, as well as the Dominican community living in the USA.
The average travel expense of medical travelers in the DR (unaccompanied) is approximately US$7,500.00.
Health tourism grew 15% in 2018; however, medical attention to conventional tourist grew by 7%; a rate that is similar to the most recent growth report within the general tourism industry in the Dominican Republic. It is estimated that 47,725 medical travelers received healthcare and other 69,550 conventional tourists were assisted under the Dominican health system.
Moreover, these do not include wellness tourist. In 2018, around 117.275 patients (both medical travelers and general tourists) sought treatment in the Dominican Republic.
According to estimates supported by primary information provided by healthcare providers and specialized societies, health tourism income reached US$ 265,132,500.00 in 2018. A year before, the economic impact was estimated at US $ 230,550,000.00.
Data shows that health tourism made a significant and broad economic impact in 2017 and 2018. The amounts include the likely average expenditure of these type of travelers when visiting the country.
Health tourism has motivated investments in new infrastructure and medical technology for over US$ 500 million, favoring the creation of jobs and leveraging new lines of businesses.
The hotel industry began developing wellness projects to take the most advantage of wellness tourism to the mountains and city areas, added to the traditional “sun and beach” tourism.
Therefore, it is possible to narrow the technology gap with new projects, investments, and in turn, create opportunities for new business segments in tourism and develop retirement communities for foreigners.
For the development of health tourism in the Dominican Republic, there are ten (10) significant challenges, related to maintaining a sustainable and credible reputation, including regulatory and incentive frameworks, accredited health and wellness centers, technology and portability of medical information, human resources, promotion and protection of the destination, investment incentives, high-quality and safe experiences, and complementary tourism services, including government action, accessibility, and bilingualism.
To achieve sustainable development of health tourism in the Dominican Republic, it is
necessary to have a purposeful and realistic path; therefore, as a result of this study, the proposal of the National Strategy for the development this niche in the country is presented, as well as the outline of a quality seal for service providers.