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Medical tourism in the Dominican Republic, what’s been done and what’s coming

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The Dominican Republic is a privileged country given its strategic geographical position, favorable investment climate, international tourism development, legal certainty, and friendly and helpful human resources.

The very development of poles such as Punta Cana, Santo Domingo, Samaná, Puerto Plata, and eventually Pedernales, have made our country (for a long time) a world-class destination for travelers, business executives, and progressive for health tourists.

Three fundamental international factors help us to have some expectations in the medium term: the globalization of health services, the aging population of the United States and Canada, which represent more than 70% of the global total of tourists who visit us, and the need of these in seeking medical treatments that are cost effective and at the same time of high quality.

According to the Medical Tourism Association in its most recent study called the Medical Tourism Index for 2020-2021, our country is the number 1 destination in the Caribbean, number 2 in Latin America, and we rank 19th in the world, in based on 46 available destinations of global importance.

Our position is not for less since the Dominican Republic has the three determining factors for this industry to flourish, in any country:

• Quality of services, technology, and equipment;
• Attractive transportation and accommodation costs, almost zero waiting time, and additional drugs and services available;
• Cultural environment and safety of the destination.

The Study and Diagnosis of Health and Wellness Tourism in the Dominican Republic, published in 2019, estimated that in 2018 we had almost 48 thousand health tourists.

Meanwhile, international patients admitted for tourism medicine, which correspond to those tourists who had an emergency or medical emergency during their stay, the figure rose to 69,550, for a global total of more than 117 thousand international patients.

Until then, the country accepted some 24 international insurances and international alliances with at least 12 hospitals, the vast majority from the United States.

What has happened thereafter?

Quite a lot, and I hope I don’t miss anything to mention.

In that same year (2019) the Espaillat Cabral Institute became the first Dominican health center, and the first outside the United States, to receive the international accreditation of quality in health Healthcare Facilities Accreditation Program – HFAP.

Likewise, the Punta Cana Medical Center received the international accreditation granted by the Qmentum International-Accreditation Canada (AC) program, being congratulated by the then ambassador of that country, who paid a visit to the facilities.

Also, the Bournigal Medical Center, a member of the Rescue Group, was recognized by the Embassy of the United States with a medal and certificate of appreciation to the international division of the center, “for its unwavering dedication and professionalism in providing medical services of class to US citizens in the Dominican Republic”.

These last two centers are part of the Rescue Group, led by Dr. José Natalio Redondo, who is also leading the construction of the Punta Cana Health City, which will have a long-term hotel, all available medical services, with a in robotic orthopedic surgery and a teaching institute so that doctors from other countries can train here and there is a climate of collaboration and knowledge transfer.

In September of that great year for health tourism, the First Latin American Digital Health Congress was held, a key piece to achieve the maximum potential of the Dominican Republic in health tourism.

Why? In the United States, Canada, and Europe, digital health is a reality and it is necessary to have an infrastructure that allows, first of all, to move towards an electronic medical record, so that this international patient is the protagonist of his own process and the provider can monitor and make decisions based on data. The analog physical medical record should and will be a thing of the past.

An advanced digital health would put us at the forefront in the health tourism offer, since this involves coordination in a digital ecosystem of health risk managers, technology professionals, human resources, imaging centers, pharmaceutical companies, clinical laboratories , and telecommunications companies.

To close an unprecedented year for health tourism, the Hospital Metropolitano de Santiago (HOMS) began the construction of a professional tower and hotel focused on health tourism, as well as the inauguration of the Bariatric and Metabolic Surgery Center, led by Dr. Héctor Sánchez Navarro.

Everything went at a pace that heralded a 2020 of greater progress for health tourism in its role for the diversification of the Dominican tourist offer. However, as is well known, the pandemic literally froze the international tourism sector and any growth initiatives in the sector.

Tourism recuperation

To enter into context, without a doubt, the Dominican Republic was the country that best overcame the pandemic, thanks to the efforts of the national government in providing access to vaccines and the inoculation campaign.

This remark was made by the Secretary General of the World Tourism Organization, Zurab Pololikashvili, who stated in February 2021 that “the Dominican Republic is an example in the world of how tourism can be managed with responsible protocols in the time of COVID -19, managing to attract international tourists with health security”.

On the other hand, Pololikashvili said that “there is no better place to invest than this paradise. A legally secure country, with a government motivated to carry out interesting, creative, modern and sustainable projects”.

In the middle of that year and based on a monumental effort due to the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, the 5th International Congress of Health and Wellness Tourism was held, an event promoted by the Dominican Association of Health Tourism and AF Strategic Communication, which had the support of 62 companies, with a focus on innovation, competitiveness and quality standards of the country’s health and tourism services.

On the same day, the third edition of the “Dominican Republic Health Tourism Destination Guide” was launched, an ideal instrument to guide international patients in the process of choosing a reliable health provider.

Its content, edited in English and Spanish, includes information on health and wellness centers; hospitals, hotels, airports, financial institutions; as well as the existing investment opportunities in the country.

Likewise, an investment lunch was held where more than 10 billion pesos in new projects were presented.

Among these, the Wellmed International Health, Welfare and Business Center stands out, which includes a 17-story medical-surgical tower, a hotel and a 650-parking tower. The megaproject, which is called “A new Tourism and Wellness experience to consolidate the new health district of the city of Santo Domingo”, will be built under international standards and will be accredited by Global Healthcare Accreditation, the only international accreditation specialized in Medical Tourism. , endorsed by the International Quality Society and the World Association of Medical Tourism.

A theme that stood out in this international congress is retirement tourism and the formation of communities, a niche that can be developed to the extent that the quality of health services, international certifications, and digital health are perceived and promoted. This public, regularly elderly, is looking for a place to retire with these minimum health characteristics.

In August, Banco del Reservas, which together with Banco Popular have supported this industry from the beginning, launched the Just Reservas international medical insurance on the market.

This tool allows access to telemedicine, mobile emergency, nursing, home hospitalization, health and wellness programs, outpatient emergency care, routine checkups and diagnostic images.

Just Reservas is a fundamental pillar for attracting international patients, with greater effort in the Dominican diaspora residing in the eastern United States.

In that same chain of events of growth of health tourism, in September, the general manager of the Banco de Reservas, Samuel Pereyra, announced that the entity negotiates with the United States the opening of an office in New York to provide services to Dominican residents. in this city and in other American demarcations.

In this region of our main commercial partner and main issuer of tourists, it is where the largest number of Dominicans reside in that country. Of the more than 2 million Dominicans in the USA, more than one million live between New Jersey and New York alone.

Having a branch of Reservas there and a strategic campaign to promote Just Reservas international insurance together with the Dominican health offer is of great importance for the development of the sector.

By December of that year, our country showed a strong upturn in tourism. A month earlier, more than half a million visitors were received, an increase of 197% compared to November 2020 and 12% compared to 2019, pre-pandemic.

Despite the monthly loss of at least 80,000 tourists due to the military conflict between Russia and Ukraine, we can proudly say that the Dominican Republic shows historical numbers for attracting tourists.

According to the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA), the Dominican Republic is the Caribbean country with the best performance in the recovery of tourism, managing to recover 91.2% of its 2019 traffic in the first two months of 2022 .

For our economy, the capture of foreign currency, the security of jobs, and the national production of food, this is very good news and it is very encouraging for… health tourism.

Perspectives of health tourism

In December 2021, President Luis Abinader issued a decree instructing the Ministries of Health and Tourism to “prepare, after carrying out the relevant studies, the policies and
strategies aimed at the sustainable development of health and wellness tourism”.

Similarly, it includes SENASA, the National Association of Private Clinics and Hospitals (ANDECLIP), the Dominican Medical College; to the Dominican Society of Plastic Surgery (SODOCIPRE), the Dominican Association of Health Tourism, the National Health Service (SNS) and the National Association of Tourism and Hotels (ASONAHORES), as private consulting entities for the preparation of said industry policies.

The official document of the aforementioned institutions and the signing of the inter-institutional agreement between MISPAS-Tourism for the elaboration of the policies and strategies of the sector for its sustainable development are yet to be seen.

On the other hand, at the beginning of March the II International Congress of Digital Health was announced. Fedor Vidal, CEO of Arium Salud Digital, reported that during this new edition, entitled ‘Towards a Comprehensive Digital Transformation’, they will present the findings of the first Digital Health Study carried out in the Dominican Republic.

This novelty represents a qualitative leap of great value for our country, both for locals and health tourists. With a diagnosis of the current situation in terms of digital health, it is possible to start working in a public-private manner to develop the policies and actions to be taken to advance towards digital health, properly speaking, in this country.
A few weeks ago, the first prick of Doctor Express took place, a fact of great importance in terms of health.

Médico Express is located in the municipality of Santo Domingo Este, an area that has little health offer and important competitive advantages for medical tourism, since most of the relatives of the Dominican diaspora reside there and its proximity to the Las Américas International Airport.

This project, promoted by Dr. Alejandro Cambiaso, president of the Dominican Association of Health Tourism, undisputed leader in the sector and who, with his patience and tireless work, has been able to integrate multiple actors in the value chain, highlighted that this center “will offer a mobile application to make appointments, see results and facilitate continuity of care, having modern software that will integrate your electronic medical record, images and administrative module, betting on the internationalization, modernization and digital transformation of the Dominican health sector” .

In other words, Médico Express will be at the forefront of technology and promises to be a first-rate center for the country’s most populous municipality, and of course, for health tourists, who will benefit from its proximity to the airport and technology similar to their respective countries, mainly the United States and Canada.

I want to highlight the progress of the Medical Center for Diabetes, Obesity and Specialties (CEMDOE), an entity that was born big and with a vision to develop of considerable importance for the niche.

This center, conceptualized by Mariela Vicini and masterfully directed in managing public relations by Dr. Gastón Gabin, is 100% digital and is preparing to apply for accreditation with the Joint Commission International (JCI), with a view to bringing out a patient-centered model and become a local and regional benchmark in the coming years.

It is good to remember that the CEMDOE signed a business alliance together with Seguros Reservas in which “they undertook to guarantee the medical care required for the institution’s insured, within the scope of the coverage of the policies with the International Health Insurance Just ”.

This implies that once the BanReservas branch is opened in New York, the CEMDOE will be within the reach of a captive community of thousands of Dominicans who need services for the treatment of diabetes and other ailments resulting from obesity.

Also, the CEMDOE announced the redoubling of its commitment to medical tourism with the expansion of its international department and the signing of agreements, among which are Caribbean Health TPA, AETNA and BUPA.

Similarly, an inter-institutional agreement was signed with the Homewood Suites by Hilton Santo Domingo, a long-stay hotel that meets accessibility and quality requirements to assist health tourists.

In view of all this that I have characterized, health tourism in the Dominican Republic has perhaps greater prospects than one could glimpse.

The impact of the infrastructure created and in process such as the Punta Cana Health City, the Torre-Hotel Homs, and Wellmed; the search for international standards and certifications; the recovery of tourism to better levels than before the pandemic; the initiative of the State in the elaboration of policies and strategies together with the private sector; progress in the process of digitalization of health; the construction of a technological avant-garde center of excellence in the municipality that concentrates the largest number of relatives of the Dominican diaspora; and international insurance designed for Dominicans abroad, indicate that health tourism resumed its course, stronger than ever.

Author: Jairo Mateo – Journalist and Content Creator at dominicantravelpro.com

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