Looking to Thailand to build Jamaica's medical tourism

Sunday, October 21, 2018

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JAMAICA may have failed to take full advantage of the possibities of medical tourism, but Dr David Walcott is on a mission to turn that around.

A Jamaican Rhodes scholar, Walcott is currently on a fact-finding mission to both Thailand and Singapore to explore how they have become the world's leaders in the industry of medical tourism, and what Jamaica can do to also become a global player.

While there he intends to meet with key decision-makers and knowledge experts that will provide “the necessary resources to bring the dream to life of putting the Caribbean islands on the global map of medical tourism in a significant way,” he told the Jamaica Observer.

“Unfortunately, as is the case with many other Caribbean countries, Jamaica has failed to capitalise on its potential to establish itself as a player in medical tourism and capitalise on the golden opportunity in a dysfunctional American health care system that has left millions with high deductibles or uninsured, particularly as a country in such proximity to the largest health care consumer market on the planet,” he said.

Thailand is a global medical tourism heavyweight, with a thriving industry since the early 2000's. This has resulted in the country taking its place on the top of the global medical tourism market. More than 1000 hospitals are located in Thailand, including the largest private hospital in Asia and the first Asian hospital to receive the ISO 9001 certification and JCI accreditation – two valuable accreditations in the world of medical tourism.

Walcott will be having meetings at the Bumrungrad International Hospital, Bangkok Hospital Group, and Samitivej Hospital, globally renowned hospitals that lead the medical tourism industry and cater mostly to foreign patients.

“Most people associate the word 'tourism' with vacation time, relaxation and fun. Even medical tourism is often perceived as a minor medical intervention carried out during vacation time abroad,” Walcott told Sunday Finance.

“Although this might be the case – minor dental work, for example – there is much more to potentially be explored in the industry of medical tourism. The world we know changes at a pace we have never seen in the history of mankind, and global travel continues to provide opportunities for greater health care quality, access and outcomes.”

He notes that the “incredibly expensive” health care system in many developed countries, particularly the USA, has created opportunities for economic development of those countries where health infrastructure allows high-quality procedures to be provided at lower cost.

“This incentivises patients to travel for medical procedures, which are often significantly cheaper than pursuing such procedures in high-income countries, even when combined with a recuperative vacation – thus medical tourism.”

A thriving health care system that is able to access and leverage global health care resources will undoubtedly contribute to the region's economic development. Walcott says.

This is not Walcott's first trip to study medical tourism, as he has been actively participating at several of the most important global events concerning economic development, medicine and medical tourism. Earlier this year he attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland – a forum that gathers some of the most influential political, scientific and business leaders. During that meeting Walcott had a chance to engage global heavyweights, such as Bill Gates and Dr Atul Gawande, on the role of the Caribbean in global health care.

More recently, Walcott also attended the 'Summer Davos' ANMC summit in China – a global event that covered topics regarding machine learning, artificial intelligence, the blockchain, distributed ledger technology and the implications to precision medicine.

“It is likely that the marriage of such technologies to health care will play a prominent role in the Caribbean's place in the global medical tourism food chain,” Walcott said..

“Surely Jamaica can only benefit from taking a chapter of knowledge and resources from these global leaders in medical tourism, and Jamaica can only benefit from such productive and progressive engagement.”

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