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The Rise of Medical Tourism in Puerto Rico

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The Rise of Medical Tourism in Puerto Rico

San Juan seen from the air.

Photo © Zain Deane

What is Medical Tourism?:

Medical tourism, quite simply, is the practice of traveling beyond your country's borders to other areas of the world to seek medical treatment. Typically, medical travel involves traveling from first-world nations (primarily U.S. and Europe) to less developed parts of the planet. Thailand, India, Mexico and Costa Rica are among the more popular tourism destinations.

As for why people are willing to travel to seek treatment, the fact is medical tourism makes a lot of sense. These destinations can offer care at equal or higher levels than "western" standards, at far more attractive rates even when you include the costs of travel (and that's for insured patients), and to top it all off, you can enjoy a restful stay in an exotic destination.

The risks, such as they are, are also fairly obvious. There's the unfamiliarity of the unknown (new country, foreign language) and the fear that, if anything goes wrong, a patient won't have any recourse to recover the money they spent or seek legal recourse.

Which brings me to Puerto Rico. As a rising player in the medical travel niche, Puerto Rico can offer advantages that virtually no other country can match. For one, American travelers aren't really going away from home. For another, Puerto Rico is close enough to the U.S. to be no more than a weekend trip for an outpatient procedure or a Caribbean sun-kissed stay escape for a few days. But the appeal of the island as a medical travel destination goes beyond these basic benefits.

Why Puerto Rico:

A manageable flight from most airports in the U.S., Puerto Rico offers the perks of near-perfect weather most of the year, no passport required for American travelers, and an English-speaking community (particularly when it comes to medical staff). Among the services you can get here (for up to 80 percent less than the same procedure in the U.S.) are orthopedic surgery, cardiovascular disease treatment, oncology and neurology. And, because it's a U.S. territory, hospitals in Puerto Rico must comply with U.S. standards. Finally, doctors in Puerto Rico must be board-certified, so American patients can rely on the quality of the treatment they receive. For far less.

The Puerto Rico Tourism company reports that the island has over 70 hospital facilities, and six projects are underway to integrate hotel and hospital facilities. Two outstanding examples of the quality of medical care here are the Ashford Presbyterian Community Hospital, known affectionately as El Presby, smack in the middle of the hip Condado neighborhood of San Juan and walking distance to beachfront hotels like the San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino, and the Centro Médico in Río Piedras, San Juan. This modern facility combines numerous hospitals and facilities, including oncology, cardiovascular and pediatric centers.

After Care:

Of course, one of the most alluring reasons to travel for your medical needs is the chance to enjoy a much-needed holiday after you're discharged. And Puerto Rico offers plenty of options for leisure, rest and relaxation. Start with over 300 beaches facing the Atlantic or the Caribbean (you can choose) upon which you can soak in the sun and listen to the therapeutic lull of the surf. The soothing greenery of El Yunque can be enjoyed even if you're not up for a hike in the forest. And if it's retail therapy you need to help you heal, you won't need to leave San Juan.

It's not hard to come up with reasons to visit Puerto Rico. And it's certainly not hard to imagine why this island is becoming a popular choice for medical travelers. Cheaper care, U.S.-standards of care, the indolent warmth of the Caribbean, and you can leave your passport at home. What more could you ask for?

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