The Medical Tourism Association, Quality and Accountability

Over at the Traveling 4 Health blog, I’ve been talking to Ilene Little and reading about the Medical Tourism Association’s (MTA)newest publication promoting Las Vegas as a new medical tourism destination for both American and International patients.

The irony of this destination is highlighted by the city’s own newspaper, The Las Vegas Sun, which has an extensive series, ‘Do No Harm: Hospital Care in Las Vegas’ detailing recent health scandals in Las Vegas hospitals, as well as 2010 reports ranking several of the facilities in Las Vegas among the worst in the nation.  In fact, the opening sentences in the article series are, ” There’s a running joke about hospitals here: “Where do you go for great health care in Las Vegas?”

“The airport.”

It’s a disappointing entry by an organization I admire – but unfortunately, it highlights the lack of accountability by medical tourism companies to their clients. Someone needs to care about the quality of the product (providers and services) that they are promoting.  Too bad it isn’t the MTA since they are certainly among the movers and shakers in the international medical tourism industry.  The rest of us are just tiny fish in a great big pond of obscurity.

ProExport Replies to our inquiries..

First, I would like to give my sincere thanks to Gabriel Amorocho, who sought me out to address my concerns regarding ProExport.  He then made a special effort to follow up with me and to get all of my questions answered.

Since I was unable to meet any of the ProExport representatives during my stay in Colombia – I submitted a list of questions for your information.  I am posting the questions and the official answers from ProExport here.

Questions and Answers with Erick Forero of ProExport:

1.     What do you anticipate for the future of medical tourism in

Thanks to the high quality level of our health services, as well as the efficiency of its administration and management, Colombia has become an international leader in the health services sector, with the United States, the Caribbean islands and Ecuador as its main
clients.  The plan moving forward is to continue strengthening the sector, as well positioning the country even more as a health destination.

In addition, Colombia is now going through an excellent moment on the subject. Colombian health institutions have reached worldwide acknowledgement thanks to its state of the art technology, qualified personnel, customized attention, excellent service-lead times and competitive pricing.

The sector is currently working very strong on accreditation activities. While the country has its own accreditation system, there are some institutions working on their accreditation from the Joint Commission International (JCI).

So far we have two accredited institutions and around 15 in the process to enter the United States’ market.

2. How is the government promoting Colombia as a medical tourism destination?

The Government chose the medical services exports sector as a world-class industry, on the basis of which the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Tourism is conducting its activities around
creating tools to facilitate and overcome certain barriers that have been identified in the health field.

The duty-free regulation arose from the fact that sufficient beds were not available. Thus, the duty-free zones will increase the capacity by over one-thousand.

Furthermore, as part of its exportation promotion activities, Proexport Colombia is working very hard on positioning the country abroad by participating in events and arranging fam-trips where we bring insurers and facilitators to display our technology, infrastructure and the clinics.

3.     What do you see as the advantages of medical tourism in Colombia for North American consumers?

There are several reasons why Colombia is a health-tourism destination: First of all, it stands out at Latin American level thanks to its research on scientific and health topics; it has
established itself as an annual host for prestigious academic events, conventions, seminars and health training sessions; in addition to being pioneers in Latin America on the creation of its own health-accreditation systems (a total of 16 institutions have national accreditation and two have JCI international accreditation).

Colombia ranks first in Latin America in overall health system performance, and 22 in the world, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

On the other hand, significant advancements have been made in the country as contributions to the medical world, such as the creation of the pacemaker (useful for certain heart
diseases), the Hakim valve (created to treat brain diseases) and the Malaria vaccination (a tropical disease that causes serious health problems in the region), among others.

Because of this, and thanks to the firm commitment to always guarantee the highest quality standards of health services, Colombia is one of the most attractive destinations world-wide for
health tourism.

4. I know Colombia has regulations in place restricting organ transplantation in Colombia to prevent black market sales.  Can you tell me more about that?

This is not a competency of Proexport Colombia. There is a regulation in place to give priority to national patients for transplants. The entity in charge is the National Health Institute. Its web
page is

5. Is Colombia planning to be represented at the Medical Tourism Association Congress in Chicago this October?

Who will be representing Colombia, and what will they be presenting?

We will be at the Convention in Chicago. The Colombian representation will be led by 10 institutions from the whole country. Proexport Colombia will coordinate the entire participation, thus we will have a stand with information regarding the country and four of
the participating clinics, which are all accredited and will have a stand. The best of the best from the country is going to be present at the event. They will be presenting their services, their export offer and the progress made in matters of infrastructure and technology acquisition.

6.    Is there anything specific you would like to pass along to Americans considering coming to Colombia for surgical procedures?

The offering found in Colombia by the foreign visitors coming to the country seeking these services is varied; however, the main sectors sought after are Cardiology, Cancer treatments,
Ophthalmology, Orthopedics, Dentistry, medical check-ups and plastic surgery.

Amongst the sales channels identified by Proexport, the entity in charge of exports, investment and tourism promotion in Colombia, we have the end user, insurers, facilitators and foreign doctors.

However, the arrival of new visitors into the country seeking these services is due to the various international conferences and conventions which take place, web-page promotions, insurer and
facilitator Fam Trips.

Bogota and Medellin are the main destinations for foreigners, followed by Bucaramanga, Cali, Santa Marta, Barranquilla, Cartagena and the Coffee Triangle.

Colombian Doctors are very experienced, and the majority of them have been educated in universities abroad.

We also have state-of-the-art technology and a one of a kind diversity of climates all year round, which is great for all patients.

In addition, thanks to our economy and exchange rates, we are very favorable in terms of costs, considering that health services are very costly and slow in other countries, while the opposite
occurs in Colombia.

Furthermore, we have good air-traffic connections with the United States.

7.      Can you explain the medical visa to me? Is a medical visa needed?

This is Foreign-Affairs Ministry issue.  But Colombia does not require a medical visa. If the treatment is a very lengthy one, lasting over six months, you must request a visa.

Thanks again, Mr. Amorocho, and Thanks, ProExport Colombia.