For the last few years, medical tourism has been a hot topic in Belize. It seems like a no brainer for this inviting Central American country, nestled on the Caribbean Sea. This is an English speaking democracy. The government is based on the British parliamentary system. Contracts are logical and easy for North Americans and Britsh to understand. There are only 330,000 residents in Belize. It takes little more than two hours to fly here from Miami or Houston. And although local medical care is good, there are still few medical specialists in the country.

If medical tourism is nurtured, it would result in access to a broader selection of highly trained specialist doctors in the country. Medical tourism would provide a long term boost to tourism. And that would have a positive impact on the Belizean economy.

Foreign doctors are standing in line, anxious to open the first medical tourism facility in Belize. And the Prime Minister can claim bragging rights as soon as the first medical tourism group begins constructing a first world quality hospital or specialty clinic. Medical tourism will attract an entirely different group of tourists to Belize. As well as their dollars…

The Local Perspective on Medical Tourism in Belize

For those of us who live in Belize, we are anxiously waiting for medical tourism to be permitted. We understand that this is a politically loaded topic. Whichever medical tourism group prevails, we anticipate that they’ll be required to provide benefits to local residents, as well they should.

My understanding is that selected medical tourism provider/s will be required to donate free medical services to the local community. One of the groups vying for permits on Ambergris Caye told me that they had agreed to provide an Emergency Response doctor. He would be on the island fulltime and able to attend to locals in an emergency. This would benefit all the island’s residents.

But the Belizean doctors themselves are concerned. It appears that the medical tourism decisions are being made at a political level. The local doctors complain they are not involved in the process. They worry that medical tourism will hurt their practices. And they are not pleased that medical tourism doctors will be offered income tax exemptions.
But most expats living in Belize are pleased with their local Belizean general practitioners. Their concerns relate to having too few medical specialists to pick from. Expats assume that medical tourism will increase the options for specialty surgeries, in particular. Ironically, most expats head to Mexico, or the USA, for any serious surgery. If the North American doctors’ prices end up higher than those in Mexico, the expats in Belize will still often head to Merida for their selective treatments.

It’s not unreasonable that the Belizean doctors expect to be involved in this review process. They assume they should be the ones to review the credentials of the medical specialists vying to open medical tourism facilities. This could prevent “political favors” from circumventing the review process.

The emphasis of medical tourism facilities in Belize will most likely be focused on foreign doctors who primarily provide services to tourists visiting for specialized medical treatments or surgery. That way they will not compete with licensed Belizean doctors.

The Question is not if Medical Tourism Will Come to Belize – but When!

My personal prediction is that the first permits for medical tourism will be granted in Belize this year. This could occur before the elections in March. Most likely it will occur afterwards.

I’m willing to bet that at least one expat medical group will obtain all the necessary government approvals during 2012. Possibly there’ll be two or three before the end of 2012…

Where the First Belize Medical Tourism Facility will be Located

The two general locations most likely are Placencia and Ambergris Caye. There’s little info about the possible facilities on-line at this time. But I recently found information on line suggesting that one group is furthest along in their permit approval process.
According to The Placencia Group’s website, they are planning to build a medical tourism facility in Placencia that is:

“Fully supported by the Belizean government, including Prime Minister Barrow, Minister of Health Honorable Pablo Marin, and the Minister of Communication, the Honorable Melvin Hulse”.

This information appears on their public website, so they must be quite confident. We’ll see what happens after the March 7th elections in Belize.

In reading their materials, they do offer a number of advantages. In particular, they’re located close to the International Airport scheduled to be opened in Placencia in late 2012. International patients could fly directly to Belize and be easily transported to their facility.

Another benefit – they will supposedly cater to local patients, as well as international medical tourists. It’s highly likely that they will donate the services for local patients. They also propose to establish Medical and Nursing schools and conduct Regenerative and Stem Cell Research. This aligns with Belize’s interest to attract more cutting edge industries.

Possibly Multiple Facilities on Ambergris Caye?

I’m willing to predict that at least one other medical tourism facility will be permitted on Ambergris Caye this year. There is currently no 24-hour health care facility on Ambergris Caye. More tourists vacation on our island than anywhere else in Belize. A local hospital or fulltime clinic is sorely needed to entice more Baby Boomer expats to invest and move here.

The local San Pedrano community is incensed that they do not have a fulltime hospital or clinic on this tourism island. The Belize Tourism Industry Association has made this their primary initiative for 2012. Many local, high profile business owners are on board.
There are at least three expat medical/doctor groups positioning to obtain a medical tourism permit on Ambergris Caye.

Similar to Placencia, tourists would consider Ambergris Caye an excellent vacation spot to convalesce after a surgery or other health procedure. They’d be able to recuperate at a relaxing resort on the Caribbean Sea…

The question is which group will obtain the first medical tourism permit. This topic is a political hot potato. Who knows what “incentives” each group has offered the Government of Belize… So I won’t speculate.

But as an expat who lives here fulltime, I support the concept of multiple quality health care facilities in Belize, and on Ambergris Caye. A high quality medical hospital is sorely needed in San Pedro. And this island is large enough to support multiple facilities. Things are rather spread out on the island. The three proposed facilities are all in different areas of the island.

This Trend Bodes Well for Belize, and the Expats Who Live Here

But the bottom line is, the more advanced medical care facilities there are in Belize, the better it will be for the country. Medical tourism will certainly have a positive impact on overall tourism and property values. It will benefit Belizeans and expats alike.

Source: Escape Artist Belize: http://belize.escapeartist.com/medical-tourism-in-belize/

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