Home to a population of over 20 million residents; Mexico City is the capital of the country of Mexico. It is also the largest city, and possibly one of the top three most densely populated cities in Mexico. Geographically, Mexico City is the largest metropolitan area in the Americas, and one of the top ten urban centers in the world. By comparison in descending order, the seven urban centers ahead of Mexico City include Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Paris, London and Kobe-Osaka. Economically, Mexico City ranks as the 8th richest city in the world, with a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of over US$390 billion as of 2009.
If Mexico City were classified as an independent nation-state, it would rank as the world’s 30th largest economy. The national income per capita approximates US$25,300 which is on par with Portugal, and significantly above both South Korea and the Czech Republic. Clearly, Mexico City is one of the fastest growing economies in the world, and its GDP is poised to double by 2020. With these statistical comparisons as a backdrop, we have clear indications that Mexico City is asset rich, relatively wealthy by global standards, and continuously strengthening its existing vibrant hub of economic activities. One such broad based set of economic activities is medical tourism; Mexico City has commenced its deep dive into creating a public private sector healthcare cluster which will position the capital as a world class medical travel destination of choice.
During August, Mexico City’s Tourism Fund along with the Ministries of Tourism and Health respectively sponsored a four day Inaugural Tourism Familiarization (FAM) Tour and Seminar. Fourteen delegates representing insurance companies, medical tourism facilitators, legal counsel, academic lecturers and industry consultants from the US attended the well-planned event. Hospital site visits, the two day seminar itself, and local sightseeing were orchestrated to provide the FAM trip delegates with networking opportunities as well as an in-depth understanding of Mexico City’s medical tourism landscape.
It has been said by the current Obama Administration’s Department of Commerce Secretary Gary Locke that “education and healthcare are the greatest equalizers in any community, society and country”. This is clearly true in Mexico City and throughout the Americas. However, in Mexico City, it is also more than that. Healthcare assets in Mexico City’s urban core represent an economic trajectory for this country’s capital. Mexico City is also distinguishing and differentiating itself in the Latin American region as an emerging medical tourism hub for the Americas.
By way of background, Mexico City is home to some of the best private hospitals in the country. Hospital Angeles, Hospital ABC, and Médica Sur lare just a few of these healthcare assets. IMSS, the country’s national public healthcare institution for private sector employees has its largest healthcare facility in Mexico City. Other public health institutions such as the ISSSTE (Public Sector Employees’ Social Security Institute) have their largest facilities in Mexico City including the National Medical Center and La Raza Medical Center. Mexico’s National Health Ministry (SSA) also maintains large specialty institutes in Mexico City as well. These include the National Institutes of Cardiology, Nutrition, Psychiatry, Oncology, Pediatrics, Rehabilitation, among other sub-specialty institutes as well.
Hospital Angeles is the largest private health system in Mexico and currently attends to more Americans traveling abroad for medical treatment than any other hospital in the world. There are also a significant number of international expatriates residing in Mexico City, and Hospital Angeles receives their fair share of in and outpatients in this category to their facility. Another well-established private hospital, Hospital Medica Sur, was organized in 1982 by a group of physicians and health care professionals who envisioned a specialty center. Today, Hospital Médica Sur lhas evolved into a conglomerate of companies that provide the three levels of medical care. These include primary care services in their three medical centers, sub-acute care at the Santa Teresa Hospital in Mexico City’s core metropolitan area, and acute, high specialty care at the Medical-University complex on the south side of Mexico City. Generally described as a health system with state-of-the-art facilities, high-end technology, organized Centers of Excellence which provide clinical services, R&D, and community education programs; Hospital Médica Sur lis a world-class health service provider.
The third hospital included as a site visit, was the Hospital Angeles Pedregal; owned by Grupo Angeles with nine locations in Mexico City and additional healthcare facility extensions to another dozen locations throughout Mexico. Yet another remarkable healthcare asset for Mexico City, Hospital Angeles Pedregal comprises a primary care and specialist physician network of over 1,300 members, and near 250 beds capacity. As with the other private hospitals above, all of the facilities include hotel accommodations on property or nearby; are well versed in handling all aspects of medical tourism facilitation, and maintain international patient care capabilities. Hospital Español, the fourth health system visited currently have collaborative partnerships with the Methodist Hospital in San Antonio, Texas; Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida; and a clinic facility in New Orleans, Louisiana. Forty percent of their medical staff with practice privileges at Hospital Español were trained in the US, Canada, Europe, Japan and France. Their clinical services include bone marrow transplants for adult and pediatric patients; while their research capabilities include stem cell treatments and other yet to be approved or non-FDA approved procedures.
The fourth and final site visit, Hospital ABC which comprises the two hospitals of Observatorio and Sante Fe, are the only two medical facilities with JCI accreditation in Mexico City. Hospital ABC is guided by an eighteen member international Board of Trustees inclusive of citizen leaders from Mexico, United States, and the United Kingdom. Hospital ABC’s Santa Fe campus is a beautiful and modern healthcare facility with Centers of Excellence in Oncology, Neuroscience, Organ Transplants, and Obesity & Metabolic Disorders. The campus is also currently building both an Orthopedics unit and a Neurology wing. Over seventy percent of Hospital ABC’s physicians were clinically trained in US, England, France and Germany; and over ninety percent are bilingual with English as their second language in addition to Spanish. Catering to Mexico City’s expatriate population as well, Hospital ABC is affiliated with Methodist International in Houston, Texas. This affiliation and hospital to hospital partnership provides benchmarking, best practices and clinical protocols operational support in addition to Centers of Excellence support in clinical training, R&D initiatives and continuing medical education.
Comments received from FAM trip delegates about these hospital site visits were insightful, positive and supportive. Jerry Turney of The Consolidated Marketing Group commented that, “The quality of the medical facilities visited in the Mexico City area is impressive! The tours conducted by hospital representatives in conjunction with Mexico City and Medical Tourism Association officials were among the most professional and worthwhile in which I have participated. Those of us involved in Medical Tourism on a daily basis are particularly appreciative of the efforts of the Medical Tourism Association to organize these trips to keep us involved in the international medical facility recruitment and accreditation process.”
Dr. Haydee Muse, M.D. of Aetna insurance said “I was impressed with the apparent Mexican government support and private hospital’s involvement in positioning Mexico as a future destination for the international healthcare travel market. While it appears some hospitals are in the initial stages of preparation for international medical travelers; others have well established programs for several years. Overall, I see Mexico in a key position to be recognized as a major destination in the international healthcare market in the near future.”
In comparison from another insurance point of view, Armando Polanco of Texas Benefit noted that “It was interesting to be a part of this Mexico City familiarization trip having seen several other medical tourism destinations in the Latin American region. While it might seem like Mexico City is late to the game, this is hardly the case. Mexico City is distinguishing itself not only in terms of travel proximity, and cost parameters, but more importantly, in terms of quality of care. At the end of the day, this is by far the most important factor when considering medical tourism destinations. And the hospitals participating in medical tourism in Mexico City appeared to be cost-competitive while offering uncompromised quality in their healthcare services. I would encourage Mexico City’s hospitals to strategically expand their hospital bed capacity to answer the future need arising from US patient migration.”
Drawing on her years of experiences at Texas Medical, Rosanna Moreno, CEO of RMG Global comments that “The four hospitals included in our site visits could increase their capacity in several areas. In general, I would recommend plastic surgery, orthopedics (hip and knee replacement), neurological disorders/neurosurgery, bariatric surgery, and cardio treatment & surgery.
Hospital Español focuses on bone marrow transplants and have had good outcomes. Hospital ABC is focusing on their neurological institute, orthopedic surgery and plastic surgery. Hospital Angeles Pedregal focuses on executive wellness check-ups and hyperbaric treatment. Hospital Médica Sur Pedregal has had great outcomes in breast cancer treatment and neurological disorder treatment with clinical trials conducted under a medical review board with JCI coordination. As a healthcare cluster, the government/public sector needs to decide where they want to invest. They’ve tried numerous times and are currently working on Biometropolis, which is supported by the Mexico City Mayor, Mr. Ebrard and Secretary of Health, Dr. Ahued. The private sector such as Médica Sur lis creating their own cluster on their own property with several institutes. As you know, a healthcare cluster requires forethought and key institutions to invest in the project. Coordination between the government and the private hospital healthcare institutions would require a desire to work together to make it a reality. It was my perception each institution had its own strategic plan and was moving forward on that plan as do other healthcare clusters around the globe.
In reviewing many of the world’s current medical tourism destinations, we tend to speak of healthcare quality amongst hospital and clinic providers in both the private and public sectors as the determining factor in comparing choices. However, it has become apparent that destinations catalyzing medical tourism sector growth are developing quicker and more successfully by comparison when public sector governmental agencies provide strong leadership, policy frameworks and investment support as well. Simply put, organizing as a healthcare cluster; which MTA defines as “an association of leading hospitals, clinics, providers, hotels, tourism operators, and government officials who are working together to promote their services and location to medical travelers and health & wellness tourists.”
José Garcia of the US – Mexico Chamber of Commerce states that “At the Federal level, as it was explained by the Officials from the Ministry of Health, they have been working in different lines to ensure that the Program on Medical Tourism will be a success in Mexico. Not only close to the US border, but also in Monterrey, Guadalajara and Mexico City there are prestigious medical organizations already certified by the US Joint Commission International. So, we can expect for the near future an important growth in this type of services in Mexico.”
Mexico City is clearly establishing its destination as a healthcare cluster; working together, building brand & awareness, creating destination credibility, marketing, promoting, and sustaining development in an integrated manner. This first medical tourism FAM tour and seminar was well received and achieved its objectives of raising awareness on Mexico City’s hospitals quality of care. Endorsed at the highest levels of local government, Graciela Báez Ricárdez – CEO, Mexico City’s Tourism Fund, Alejandro Rojas Díaz-Duran – Minister of Tourism, Mexico City, and Armando Ahued – Minister of Health, Mexico City presided over the successful two-day seminar proceedings. Topics ranged from global development of medical tourism; US healthcare, legal framework and insurance systems, to marketing and medical facilitation.
FAM trip delegate Jeff Carter of Health Globe quoted that “The Mexico City health care conference was very informative. It was great to see the strong support of the city government for the Medical Travel industry. Many of the health care facilities that we toured were destination hospitals that will definitely strongly compete in the global Medical Travel market.” Further adds delegate Rosanna Moreno, “The Mexico City Seminar on Medical Tourism sponsored by the Government of Mexico City was quite enlightening. The visits to the hospitals provided an overview of the medical services each offered and in particular, the innovative therapies and procedures conducted through clinical trials and approved by local medical review boards. All facilities are undergoing the accreditation process with JCI, providing a marketing advantage with standard protocols and clinical procedures. I believe Mexico City has a tremendous advantage due to the concerted governmental effort and support from the secretaries of health and tourism.”
In concurrence, Armando Polanco remarked that “Attending the first ever Mexico City Medical Tourism Conference was both enlightening and informative. The city of 20,000,000 people opened their hearts to this important conference where local political leaders and dignitaries proclaimed of the strong commitment to put Mexico City and its country on the medical tourism map. A list of well known speakers from the U.S. all agreed that the proximity of the two nations would bode well for patient migration in pursuit of quality healthcare with access at reduced cost. Four of their finest hospitals were showcased for the FAM Tour where their Centers of Excellence would prove imperative as destinations for healthcare.”
In summary, Mexico City appears to be taking a lot of the right actions in positioning itself as a medical tourism destination. The commitment between both the private and public sectors was at the forefront to this development, and visible to delegates on this 4-day familiarization trip. In terms of market reach, Mexico City has an advantage in addition to proximity to the U.S. lower 48 states that goes beyond travel time. As part of the Latin American region, it is effectively positioning itself as a healthcare cluster for other parts of the Latin American region as well. Given the quality of care, and continued growing sophistication of healthcare capabilities offered, Mexico City could become a highly effective and prominent hub for the region.
Cayla Lambier is a recent graduate of Washington State University and possesses Bachelors degrees in both Communication, with an emphasis on journalism, and English. She considers herself to be an incredibly versatile writer, with several years of professional experience ranging from reporting and magazine editing, to public relations and technical writing. Cayla is currently engaged as an editorial intern with the Seattle branch of Where Magazine and as a freelance staff writer for Medical Tourism Magazine.
Vivian Ho is President of AGHP, a 501c3 that works on global health philanthropy ventures. She also serves as Managing Director, Asia Pacific for MTA, and Co-Editor of MTA’s health tourism e-magazine. Prior to this, Vivian was President & CEO of Queens International in Honolulu, Hawaii building Hawaii’s medical travel & health tourism initiative. She currently advises on country, sector and organization initiatives in Medical & Health Tourism. She may be reached at Vivian@MedicalTourismAssociation.com.