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HEALTH & BEAUTY - Medical Tourism expected to rise

Medical Tourism Expected to Rise in 2010
by Karri Moser

The debate over Health Care reform in the U.S. is far from over; meanwhile, thousands of U.S. citizens, many of them Mexican-American rather tend to their health needs in Mexico, but experts say there are important changes in pharmaceutical legislation and other considerations that medical tourists should be aware of.

According to the Deloitte Center report, “Medical Tourism: Update and Implications,” in 2007 more than 750,000 Americans traveled abroad for outbound medical care. Since then, medical tourism has experienced a slow down driven by the economic recession and consumers putting off elective medical procedures over the past two years with an estimated 20 percent and 10 percent decrease in 2008 and 2009, respectively.

“Medical tourism has transitioned from a cottage industry to an acceptable alternative for elective care,” said Paul Keckley, Ph.D. and executive director, Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, based in Washington, D.C.

“Despite the setbacks of the economic downturn, [medical tourism] may begin to recover in 2010, as quality is better defined, new business models emerge, insurers, legislators and employers explore pilots and programs, health care providers become increasingly involved in coordinating care and consumers continue to test it out to explore savings,” he added.

This growing tendency has not escaped doctors and dentists in Tijuana, Rosarito and Ensenada, whom had been working on strong public campaigns to establish themselves as trustworthy destinations for U.S. patients looking for affordable medical procedures and medications.

According to the latest census, Tijuana has over 876 pharmacies, 345 of them are located around the border and Revolution Street, showing just how great the market is for medication for U.S. visitors. But very few people may know of a new law that went into effect April 1, requiring a prescription in order to buy antibiotics, a measure that will hurt Mexican and border residents alike, according to the Head of Tijuana’s Medical Association, Germín Díaz Hernández.

According to Dr. Diaz, this measure was approved hastily and without taking into account the possible consequences to the working-class families or to an already burdened public health system.

“[This measure] has mixed consequences: on the one hand, it is beneficiary for the medical sector, because it will mean more patients, and it will also modify the culture of self-medicating or going directly to a pharmacy in order to get a recommendation on what to take,” he explains.

“But on the other hand it could generate a black market for the sale of prescriptions without an adequate assessment of the patient, and it is a hasty measure without adequate changes to the health care infrastructure, education of pharmacy personnel or adequate regulation of the pharmacies in the country,” the doctor explained.

For many Americans, visiting Mexico for a surgery or dental work is too risky, while for a large group of U.S. citizens it has become their only health care option.

Despite the divide, experts, doctors and patient-rights advocates all agree about the importance of being an educated consumer and keeping up with the legislation changes on both sides of the border. Patients should always ask for references, licenses and become knowledgeable about risks.

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