Colombia – Emerging Medical Tourism Destination for Americans

Forget India and Thailand.Forget Brazil.Colombia is the future of medical tourism for American consumers, and here are five reasons why.

1. Proximity – in simple terms, look at an atlas, and consider the distances required for travel to Asia from the Americas. Then reflect on the population we are talking about; many of whom are ill, the elderly or mobility-impaired. An 18-hour flight is arduous on a physically fit individual but downright perilous for many of these patients. These “long leg” journeys also place these patients (particularly on the return trip) at risk for complications such as deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism due to prolonged immobility, and recent surgery [1]. Affordable surgery shouldn’t place your health in jeopardy. In comparison, several destinations in Colombia are within a three- to four-hour flight from major American cities, which lessens these risks considerably.

Cost of travel is another factor that falls under the heading of proximity. Flights to Asia are exceedingly expensive, which raises the costs of the medical procedure considerably. During a recent flight search, the average cost of a flight to Asia was more than $1,800. Flights to Colombia on budget airlines such as Jetblue are frequently advertised for less than 300. That’s a huge difference, especially when you consider that medical travelers shouldn’t be traveling alone.

2. Similar values, similar culture and similar ideals
The predominant language is Spanish but many providers speak excellent English. For years, Hispanic Americans have been traveling to Colombia for care. For many of these individuals, they were coming home, but others have known was English-speaking Americans are just finding out the care is excellent. The medical culture is the similar to the United States ,meaning that concerns about the scarcity of resources and level of care are unjustified. After spending five months in Bogota, and researching medical tourism in Colombia, I speak with authority. International and American standards of care, and procedures are followed, and arguably, in many ways the care is superior. In Colombia, and most of Latin America, the doctor-patient relationship is closer. Patients receive greater access to their physicians (Colombian doctors routinely provide their patients with their home and cellular phone numbers.) When’s the last time your doctor gave you his home phone number, and told you to call?

3. Surgical proficiency and medical education
Unlike many countries, the medical education and training in Colombia is similar to that of the United States [2]. For example, thoracic surgeons in Colombia complete a fou-ryear general surgery residency prior to beginning a two year specialty fellowship. In other countries, the general surgery residency is often skipped, meaning these doctors may miss developing complications due to inexperience. Many of these doctors have trained in the United States and hold memberships and credentials in American organizations. In my visits to the operating rooms here in Bogota, the surgeons demonstrated excellence and precision with even the newest technologies in areas such as cardiac, thoracic and general surgery. In fact, some of these techniques such an uniport laparoscopy are just now gaining popularity in the United States.

4. Absence of resistant infections such as the Indian super bug; New Delhi Metallo B – lactamase 1 (NDM-1).
While no hospital or country in the world can claim to be entirely free of antibiotic-resistant infections, Colombia remains free of the latest health threat; the deadly and frightening NDM-1, which is resistant to all known antibiotics. This infection is plaguing India and its medical tourism industry, especially after being identified in England in several returning medical tourists [3, 4]. While the Indian government and the Indian medical community are clamoring for a change in nomenclature, recent data shows widespread water contamination with NDM-1 in parts of India, as well as evidence of a government cover-up [5].

5. Medical City 2012
One of the last reasons why Colombia is the medical destination of the future is the development of a medical supercity, the “Medical City 2012′ project that is being build in the upscale suburbs of Cartagena, approximately 10 kilometers from the Cartagena airport. This project, spearheaded by Dr. Francisco Holguin, aims to provide comprehensive services in a select group of surgical specialties including cardiac surgery, orthopedics, bariatric surgery, dentistry and plastic surgery. In a recent interview with Holguin, he stated, “No hospital, not John Hopkins, not Harvard can be excellent in all areas of medicine. But with the right programs, and the right staff, a place like Medical City can be excellent in a few select areas.” He is meeting with leading physicians in these areas to develop surgical specialty programs at the new facility.

For many Americans the concept of traveling overseas for medical care is a foreign concept, to many others, simply medical necessity. Colombia may just be the right combination for American medical tourists.

References

1. American Heart Association, (2011). Economy class syndrome and deep

vein thrombosis. Available at:

http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=3010041.

2. Wood, D. E. & Farjah, F. (2009). Global differences in the training,practice, and interrelationship of cardiac and thoracic surgeons. Ann Thorac Surg. 2009 Aug; 88 (2); 515 ‘” 21.

3. Kaul, T. K., & Chhina, D. K. (2010). Medical tourism and New Delhi Metallo- B ‘” lactamase 1-A : a concern and threat. J. AnesthesioloPharmacol. 2010 Oct. 26 (4) 437-8.

4. India superbug hits UK from medical tourism. (2010, Aug 11, Channel 4 news). Available at http://www.channel4.com/news/superbug-hits-uk-through-medical-tourism

5. Controversy over Delhi superbug returns to haunt medical tourism in India. (2011 April 20, International Medical Travel Journal). Available at: http://www.imtj.com/news/?entryid82=285632&source=email&campaign=imtj_news_110415