As the cost of health care in the U.S. continues to rise, Americans are increasingly turning to medical tourism for more affordable options. But whereas in the past travelers have sought destinations farther afield, like Thailand, more and more Americans are starting to look toward Mexico.
Historically Mexico City and Monterrey have been known for their medical tourism, but Cancun recently has been rising in the ranks as one of the most affordable, safe and practical destinations for foreigners, as well.
According to the Medical Tourism Index from 2017, 66% of Mexico's 4,500 hospitals are privately owned: "[Mexico's] proximity to the United States gives the private health care system the opportunity of looking outside the destination for incremental business."
"As Mexico continues to capitalize on its closeness to the U.S. market, the destination maintains a cost advantage when paired with its cheap labor market," the Index reports.
"The number one reason Cancun is so attractive for medical tourism is savings," said Andres Jurado, the director of My Medical Vacations, a travel company that has been organizing medical tourism to Cancun for the past decade. "Cancun is a name travelers recognize, so even if they don't know the rest of Mexico, they know Cancun and what it represents."
Jurado said that Cancun is most popular for elective procedures, including plastic surgery, dentistry and fertility. There are three major fertility clinics in Cancun that cater to international patients. Mexico also has six JCI-accredited hospitals. JCI is the Joint Commission, a U.S.-based nonprofit that accredits health care organizations and programs. Cancun is the only destination with two JCI-accredited hospitals.
"Medical tourism works exclusively in the private sector. For the types of procedures that patients are looking for, Cancun is well equipped," Jurado added.
More and more accommodations are starting to equip themselves with resources to handle medical travelers, as well. Options like care homes or hotels that hire a medical staff are becoming more popular.
For example, the grounds of Grupo Palace will soon be home to a massive medical tourism facility, to be known as Health City. Just 10 minutes from the airport, the complex will be a collection of hotels, shopping centers, convention centers, spas, housing areas, condos, office buildings and areas for scientific research. Hotels City Express has announced the opening of a new airport with 120 rooms, which will be on the grounds of Health City. The development will be on the grounds of Grupo Palace, but largely developed by third-party investors. Ground has broken on the project, but there is no definitive date for completion at this time.
"Cancun has been growing so fast as a medical tourism destination because there is a culture of customer service here," said Jurado. "It's not only the doctors or the hospital staff, but people have a natural warmth and a welcoming sense that patients can feel. At the end of the day, Cancun was built and designed for tourism. The people involved in these services have that additional cultural aspect, which is welcoming visitors. That is a Mexican thing."