Latin America is renowned as one of the world’s top regions for travel and tourism, and over the past decade, medical tourism has emerged as one of the main reasons why the region has been featuring in an increasing number of itineraries around the world. According to Patients Beyond Borders, around 20 million medical tourists seek treatment around the world every year; the medical tourism market in Latin America alone was worth USD8 billion in 2019 and is expected to surpass USD10 billion by 2021. Globally, the market is predicted to grow to USD165.3 billion by 2023.
Demand for advanced, high-quality, and cost-effective healthcare services, combined with the application of modern technologies in transportation and communication, is driving growth in the medical tourism market in Latin America. The three countries that receive the highest number of medical tourists in the region are Colombia, Chile, and Costa Rica. Among them, Colombia is known to boast the best healthcare system. According to an index prepared by the Medical Tourism Association, Colombia is the leading Latin American destination for medical tourism with an overall score of 69.48, followed by Panama with 67.93 and Cost Rica with 67.67.
Besides, the WHO ranked Colombia’s healthcare system 22 out of 191 countries, higher than any other country in Latin America. What is even more remarkable is that Colombia was ranked higher than some of the world’s biggest economies, such as the US (37), Australia (32), Canada (30), and Germany (25). A 2019 study by América Economia further breaks down the country’s leading position in the region: Colombia is home to 24, or 41%, of the top-58 clinics and hospitals in Latin America. While nine of these institutions are located each in Medellín and Bogotá, Cali, Barranquilla, and Bucaramanga are equally popular among medical tourists.
To top it off, in Colombia, it is possible to access world-class healthcare at a fraction of the costs in developed countries. According to ProColombia, Colombia’s investment promotion agency, international patients can expect to pay from 50-70% less than the cost in their home countries. This is true for areas as diverse as reproduction, oncology, urology, cardiology, dental care, and physical rehabilitation. For example, a patient who decides to get a heart valve replacement in Colombia as opposed to the US can save as much as USD160,000. Colombia is also appealing to European medical tourists, with President Duque recently announcing an agreement with Spain to promote Colombia as a medical tourism destination in the Iberian nation.
As evident from social media trends, cosmetic surgery is the largest segment of the global medical tourism market, with 60% of medical tourists seeking aesthetic surgeries or treatments. And this growth is set to continue as people from all walks of life increasingly seek cosmetic surgery. With patients now able to use the internet to research options around the world, more and more people are inclined to seek improved service and value through surgery overseas. Notably, Colombia is also a leader in cosmetic surgery; not only do Colombian plastic surgeons perform 31% more procedures than their counterparts in the US, but they are also ranked in the top five in nearly every kind of aesthetic procedure including facial fat grafting, liposuction, breast augmentation, posterior body lift, and rhinoplasty. According to a recent study by the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, 26% of patients looking for international aesthetic surgery options choose Colombia.
With such numbers, it is no surprise that medical tourism in Colombia grew by a massive 264% between 2012 and 2018, from 5,501 to 20,021 patients, according to data from the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Tourism (MinCIT). And the government has even bigger plans for the future. It is planning to ease its visa policy and reduce taxes on medical technologies in a bid to receive 2.8 million medical visitors and generate USD6 billion in revenue by 2032. While some will argue those targets are not realistic, one thing is for sure: a healthcare model that aims to offer ground-breaking healthcare treatments, such as stem-cell treatment, at affordable rates has massive room for growth.