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Health tourism: a growing expectation

Article - November 15, 2013
A reformed healthcare system not only improves quality of life for the population, but also encourages a new and growing kind of tourism: health tourism
DR. ALEJANDRO GAVIRIA, MINISTER OF HEALTH AND SOCIAL PROTECTION
Some 4,000 foreign patients come to Colombia for medical attention every year and the number is on the rise. Minister of Health and Social Protection Dr. Alejandro Gaviria explains that this phenomenon comes as a result of the 1990s, when due to the financial crisis the country was going through, around 600,000 citizens migrated to the USA or Europe. They studied degrees at the best universities, gaining a very complete and professional education. Most of them are returning now with a wealth of contacts and connections. Foreigners are migrating provisionally to Colombia because they prefer to be treated there by professionals who are as well trained as those in their native countries, but at a lower cost. 
 
One of the impressive facts is that this is already happening without negotiations with American healthcare insurance companies; people are paying for the service out of their own pockets, leaving open the possibility that if negotiations take place, the numbers will increase.
 
Colombia made an important reform to its health system a short while ago. Although the reform has had this amazing effect, it was not initially conceived for this purpose. This is just a consequence of a long process in which different personalities proposed different measures that resulted in this phenomenon. This reform was designed to enrich the social setting, to increase access to the health services, and the coverage range, especially for those in the poorest conditions. It protects the financial capacity of every home. According to Dr. Gaviria: “The expense of a Colombian family in health can be one of the lowest of the developing nations.”
 
The reform had two main objectives. The first aim was to outline the range of coverage to which the state would respond. This way, the system would be clear and work under certain rules that would later prevent any financial crises. The second objective was to create a public fund that concentrated resources and allowed for a healthy cash flow, at the same time improving the entire health system. 
 
In addition to this reform, there are several plans that are also contributing to this wave of social awareness in the health sector and simultaneously encouraging health tourism. “Salud Mía” (My Health), created as an administrator of the system’s resources, looks to avoid retentions by the insurance companies and, as a consequence, debts.

It gives the industry a new perspective. “It will change the sector’s architecture,” Dr. Gaviria argues. On the other hand, to help the population from beginning to end with the whole process involving a health issue, “GES” have been created, which intend to substitute the insurance companies. “We want Colombians to feel they have companies that represent them in the system to manage their health, and also that they can give good results, perform a double function, manage the public funds, and manage the health results of the population,” Dr. Gaviria explains.
 
With this reform and alternate plans taken into action, the previously mentioned Health Tourism has an extraordinary potential, and as Dr Gaviria explains, “It would be difficult to find another Latin American country features such geographic conditions, human resources and medical proficiency, as well as specialized medicine in aesthetics and dentistry.” The whole country has different plans of expansion, different cities are participating and already getting started for this growing new kind of tourism.

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