Monday, May 21, 2012

Mexico increases efforts to attract US Medical Tourists

Despite safety concerns in a few border towns, Mexico continues to see a boom with Americans seeking low price surgery or dental and cosmetic treatment. There is nowhere else in the world where millions of Americans have access to hundreds of hospitals and clinics where they can drive there and back in one day. Although the Peso is the official currency of Mexico, US dollars are also widely accepted. 

The Mexican border town of Mexicali is making a push for more tourists from the American Southwest to visit the city's dentists, surgeons and doctors. Medical tourists from the USA with the right documents can skip much of the wait on the Mexican side of the border by using a new designated medical tourism lane. Mexicali's tourism director Omar Dipp, says the new lane is one part of the city's plan to boost medical tourism by 50%, "You can now drive to Mexicali, take care of your health, and only take 20 minutes to cross the border instead of two hours." 

American patients must request a pass from Mexican doctors who are participating in the program. That pass, plus a doctor's receipt and foreign license plates, will allow patients access to the special lane. Once in the lane, vehicles can bypass the traffic on the Mexican side of the border crossing, and cut to near the front of the line. Mexicali is promoting the medical tourism lane in Arizona, Nevada and California to persuade more residents there to visit Mexicali doctors. Patients who go to the Mexicali area for affordable medical services also stay in hotels, eat in restaurants, use taxis and attend shows. One problem is that the shortcut only works on the Mexican side, since medical tourists can still be subject to delays from U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents. To avoid abuse, Mexicali tourism officials are requiring participating doctors to sign a contract with the tourism board to ensure they only give passes to foreign patients who are crossing the border. Each pass costs the doctors $4. 

Mexico City is raising its profile as a center for medical tourism with a campaign aimed at residents in Chicago and other cities with large Mexican immigrant populations who need cancer treatment, heart surgery, dental procedures and other health care. The marketing campaign is focusing on Mexican immigrants and Mexican-Americans in the USA, starting in Chicago, Los Angeles and San Diego. Although there are no statistics on how many US patients travel to Mexico City for health care, local health officials say that have been climbing since it began promotions in Chicago and other US. Among the services being promoted in Mexico City are organ transplants, diabetes care, gastrointestinal procedures and fertility treatment, with the costs 40 to 80% cheaper than those in the USA.

A number of clinics in Mexico are located very close to the US border, and many patients opt to travel to these places and return home the same day. The proximity of the location is a major factor for American medical tourists in addition to the significantly lower prices. Cosmetic surgery, obesity treatment and dental treatment are on offer in places such as Tijuana. Crime in Tijuana is a problem but less common in tourist areas.

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