As I mentioned in a post earlier this week, the New York Times article by Jennifer Medina has really gotten Mexicali officials to sit up and take notice. The NYT article was just one part of a ‘medical tourism plan’ outlined by the mayor of Mexicali and other government officials.
Right now the outline consists of several points:
1. Guide to medical services – they have published a book with the names and addresses of surgeons interested in participating in medical tourism.
2. Transportation – mainly by automobile and buses. The medical tourism lane at the border was part of this.
3. A plan for a 32 block medical tourism zone.
A good start, and it shows forethought – but as I listened to their outline it prompted my own (humble) suggestions:
1. Medical guide – make this a ‘real’ guide not a phone book of surgeons and providers offering their services. It should be comprehensive, and offer more than just names and addresses, ideally written as an independent review.. But then take the risk that maybe everything, and every service won’t come out shining.. (Admittedly, this is something I understand the best).
2. Transportation – consider approaching Volaris or another carrier to offer direct flights once or twice a week from Las Vegas, Dallas and Los Angeles. Right now there are no direct flights from Mexicali to the United States. By offering direct flights – Mexicali could be much more competitive with both Tijuana and Las Vegas (which is pursuing its own medical tourism strategy to make Las Vegas a medical tourism destination.) This would play to Mexicali’s two biggest strengths:
1. It’s proximity to the United States
2. It’s reputation as a ‘safe’ destination in comparison to Tijuana and other border cities which have their own medical tourism ideas..
It would also open up Mexicali to a much wider market since both Dallas and Los Angeles is a hub for several American carriers serving Canada and the USA.
2. Consider changing the 32 block ‘medical tourism zone’ into one large facility offering dedicated service lines. While all the small private hospitals in Mexicali will hate this idea – instead of fighting over patients, they would have the advantage of having one large facility with pooled resources.
This would also address the weaknesses of medical tourism in Mexicali: Right now each facility has five (or two) ICU beds, and just 10 or so post-operative beds. It would also eliminate some of the waste caused by the costly duplication of services – since each hospital currently struggles to offer CT scans, cath facilities and other costly equipment. As part of a long-range plan – this would better enable the providers and facilities in Mexicali to seek outside accreditation/ and certification of programs and service lines, which in turn would attract more patients.
In the meantime, participating hospitals could convert to specialty facilities (ie. an orthopedic hospital, and plastic surgery center etc.) while the new facility is being built. This would also reduce the stress on doctors traveling all over town to see just one or two patients at each facility.. If medical tourism really gets going here – these doctors are going to need as much time as they can get; caring for patients..
The centralized large hospital would also enable people like Dr. Vasquez to really get his cardiac surgery program off the ground. More specialized ancillary services like physical and rehabilitative services would also be pooled and would improve the quality of services in the city, for everyone, including the people of Mexicali who also suffer from the lack of large, comprehensive facilities. This also brings me to my next point –
3. Since the city and government of Mexicali is involved in the project – there needs to be a clear and comprehensive plan about how the revenue from this project is going to serve the people of Mexicali. After all – their tax dollars are helping to fund this ingress into medical tourism, so they need to get something out of it.. Like a PET scanner or some other service that doesn’t currently exist in Mexicali.
4. Don’t forget the rest of Baja – there are an awful lot of retirees and such living in southern Baja – so make sure they know about what your city has to offer. These people need hip replacements, heart surgery and a whole spectrum of services that are very limited in their geographic area. Give them a reason to come to Mexicali instead of Ensenada or Tijuana by courting their business.
If anyone from Mexicali reads this post – I hope they can see my suggestions, in the spirit that they are given. Mexicali has a lot of opportunity here, and the potential to be a great place for a wide range of medical tourism – not just bariatrics and plastic surgery, but they need more comprehensive, and long-range strategies to put their plans into action.
Today was a great example of how much the city has accomplished by working together – with a little more work, and a lot of vision – Mexicali could really go far, and provide great services to more than just a bunch of gringos..