Global medical travel had been growing as an industry for the last few decades until the COVID-19 pandemic hit and travel came to a standstill. As countries open to visitors once again, people will resume traveling to gain greater, more timely access to care, take advantage of procedures not available in their home country and save money. Pent-up demand for elective and sometimes needed surgery following COVID-19 will also prompt increased adoption.
According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), the most common types of treatment include dental care, orthopedic surgery, cardiac and neurological care, cosmetic surgery, organ and tissue transplantation, fertility treatments and oncology treatments, which can locally be very expensive. Each year, millions of U.S. residents travel abroad for healthcare, including the Caribbean, Central and South America, with more Americans seeking safer, high-quality quaternary care that is also cost-effective. Even U.S.-based Medicare Advantage plans may begin taking advantage of the opportunities for offering members an international option.
In addition, partnerships from academia, industry and government can break new ground and foster innovation and leadership to deliver higher quality, more cost-effective options for high-end treatment to residents and medical value tourists in Caribbean. These partnerships need to focus on practical solutions to healthcare problems plaguing underserved populations and communities.
The Growing Demand for Medical Travel in the Caribbean
With 71% of U.S. international travelers planning to travel abroad in 2021 and the global medical travel market expected to grow from $19.79 billion in 2020 to $21.93 billion in 2021, it is safe to say in the wake of COVID-19, international medical travel remains a top choice for those in the U.S. and Canada looking for cost-effective medical care.
The Caribbean provides one of the best options for medical travel for U.S. residents since it is so close to home. As the pandemic subsides, more Caribbean countries are working to reopen, and healthcare experts expect to see a surge in global medical travel. One of the pandemic fallouts in the U.S. has been the significant reduction in elective surgeries and procedures. Due to the delay, physicians are dealing with sicker patients and some 37% of primary care physicians say their patients with chronic conditions are in “noticeably worse health resulting from the pandemic.”
This trend has prompted built-up demand for care, and in response, costs are expected to rise. The situation in Canada and Great Britain is similar, especially with more restricted access to elective care — especially in orthopedics and gastroenterology. The Cayman government’s ambition is to build the Cayman Islands as “The Destination for Destination Healthcare,” which means the complete package of quality healthcare services combined with leisure travel. Dubai is currently positioned on similar lines.
Partnerships Drive Innovation and Leadership on Healthcare’s Critical Issues
To positively impact population health, healthcare resilience and well-being for individuals and communities, it starts with developing, nurturing and implementing innovative insights and strategies. This process also requires engaging thought leaders in academia, the government, and industry in strong partnerships. Through an innovative, collaborative approach, leaders and partners can design programs and strategies to empower individuals and improve the health outcomes of underserved populations and communities. For example, one of the main health challenges facing small island developing countries in the Caribbean is non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including diabetes, heart attack, stroke, cancer and cardiovascular disease. They account for 75-85 percent of total deaths.
The health and disability caused by NCDs profoundly affects Caribbean society and has a significant effect on its economy. This is a complicated problem that requires more than a single approach. Through partnerships, leaders can work to create a planned capacity to develop a strategy to combat the alarming rise of NCDs. This strategy requires many avenues including strengthening health systems, attracting a skilled workforce to handle the costly and dealing with complex issues related to taking care of NCD patients, creating a multisector approach and leveraging partnerships and funding.
A good place to start is through data aggregation and assessment, coupled with information distribution that communicates valuable, relevant and actionable insights and supports opportunities to overcome key challenges. When data-driven initiatives are powered by professionals who also have a track record for delivering meaningful change, better healthcare outcomes could prevail across the Caribbean. It is important that patients select credible healthcare partners who have a history of successful delivery of tertiary and quaternary care.
Success relies upon genuine and effective thought leadership that transcends the traditional “talking heads” approach. Leaders must build solutions with intent, process, diligence, broadmindedness, and creative innovation—grounded in meaningful data that lays the groundwork for improvement. At the same time, these leaders go well beyond big data to create roadmaps and provide sustainable solutions which support communities, patients, employees, governments and everyone associated with the organization through believable and practical evidence. They ask generative questions and employ top-down and bottom-up strategies to achieve a new normal through culture, practice and strategy—working directly with those most impacted by the issues.
Thought leadership and innovation organizations understand how to exploit data and technology for the good of everyone, determining the right tools that enable physicians and other healthcare providers to focus exclusively on output, patient health and outcomes. They can bring in new-age solutions, technology and care model which can put the region on the world map.
In the Caribbean, strong partnership will be needed to help rebuild the global medical travel industry put on hold by the pandemic as well as help improve the healthcare outcomes of the Caribbean population in the process. It will be exciting to see what ideas will emerge from thought leaders focused on finding solutions in the months ahead.
Deputy Managing Director
Aster DM Healthcare Ltd.
Board Member, Thought Leadership & Innovation Foundation