• The Star Staff

COVID vaccine could boost medical tourism


By John McPhaul

jpmcphaul@gmail.com


The start of vaccinations of medical personnel in Puerto Rico and first responders is an important element that will have a positive effect on the medical tourism sector, since it strengthens the island as a destination for patients from other states or countries seeking to receive excellent medical assistance at a reasonable cost, says Economic Development and Commerce (DDEC by its Spanish acronym) Secretary Manuel A. Laboy Rivera.


“The Medical Tourism sector has a promising future in Puerto Rico and despite the emergency we face due to the spread of COVID-19, hospitals and medical offices continue to treat patients from various jurisdictions in search of medical services,” Laboy Rivera said Sunday in a written statement.


“Now with the arrival of the vaccine, which is added to the protocols developed by the Medical Tourism Program and medical institutions, patients will receive treatment by professionals vaccinated against COVID-19 and under the best safety standards,” Laboy Rivera said. “Thus, this economic sector has opportunities to continue its expansion on the island. Our commitment is to continue supporting through public policy and in partnership with the private sector strategies that maximize this sector through our Medical Tourism Program, achieving greater recognition of the services that Puerto Rico offers.”


The recent approval in the island Senate and House of Representatives of House Bill 2382 will establish the Medical Tourism Office in DDEC, transfer funds to the Department of Economic Development and Commerce of Puerto Rico, among other actions necessary to continue to strengthen the medical tourism sector, the DDEC secretary said.


“Once these processes are completed, we hope to generate an economic impact for the island, attracting approximately 30,000 patients in the next 3-5 years, which represents an economic impact of $23.5 million,” Laboy Rivera said. “By 2021, the process will be created to establish a … certification for hospitals, hotels and medical offices in the following specialties: dental, cardiology, orthopedics, cancer, neurosurgery, gynecology, fertility procedures, pediatrics, ophthalmology and plastic surgery.”


The Medical Tourism Program joins other public policy initiatives to retain and attract health professionals, the official said. The passenger waiver granted by the United States Department of Transportation is also projected to facilitate the arrival of patients from various parts of the world for medical treatment.


“For next year the Medical Tourism Program will work on various initiatives to promote the island. Among these is creating alliances with the ministers of health from the Caribbean islands so that Puerto Rico is their first option when sending their patients to receive medical treatment in another jurisdiction. Alliances will also be established with health insurers in Central America to use the island as a more viable alternative to the United States, where treatment costs are high,” Laboy Rivera said. “Meanwhile, it will work with the medical directors of the cruise lines based in San Juan so that they use the health providers under the Medical Tourism Program to attend to their crew members. Another initiative will be to coordinate events with the self-insured in Florida, Chicago and New York, so that they include Puerto Rico hospitals as part of their provider network.”


More details about the Medical Tourism Program can be obtained by sending an email to turismomedico@ddec.pr.gov, the DDEC secretary said.