Bahamian healthcare facilities are likely to enter into joint ventures and partnerships with overseas providers in a bid to develop a medical tourism sector, says the minister of tourism, with the industry targeting profitable niche markets seen as having long-term sustainability. Rather than overseas companies entering the Bahamas on their own, they are more likely to link up with established Bahamian-owned companies in joint ventures, partnerships and re-brandings.
Vernice Walkine of the Ministry of Tourism said, "Our desire is to partner with a premier medical provider that would be compatible with our Bahamian destination brand, and also with our Ministry of Health's standards for providing recognised, reputable and proven procedures in treatment." Developing medical tourism could help to diversify the Bahamian tourism industry and the wider economy. The Ministry of Tourism is seeking to develop an investment incentives policy for the healthcare industry, similar to that presently enjoyed by the hotel industry.
The authorities feel that to establish the Bahamas as a medical tourism destination, it is not sufficient just to open and let the world know. They believe that people who travel overseas for medical care are looking for specific treatment in specific areas, and a specific level of confidence. So it is a matter of specializing in something that will be of great interest to those markets and are trying to define those areas precisely, and see what needs to be done to become effective in those areas.
The Bahamas has a small amount of medical tourism business, including high intensity focused ultrasound prostate cancer treatment where 15 patients a month travel to the Bahamas for treatment, staying for five days, and bringing along family members.
American medical institutions are being targeted by the Grand Bahamas Port Authority (GBPA) for its proposed $100 million hospital for Freeport. The GBPA has enlisted consultants to develop framework proposals for how medical tourism could work in Freeport.
Dr. Marcus C. Bethel, a former Minister of Health says that the proposal for Grand Bahamas is deserving of critical analysis,” The rationale is the high cost of health care in the USA, and its proximity to The Bahamas. The benefits to be derived might include creation of specialized health services such as kidney transplants, cardiac surgery, orthopedic surgery, pediatric surgery and cancer therapy. Also, the introduction of such services means expansion of support services, including housing and food services for the medical personnel, patients and families. The introduction of medical tourism would require the investment of millions of dollars to build a modern hospital and support facilities, and the importation of medical doctors, nurses and allied health personnel to staff such a facility.’
Dr Bethel asks questions that anywhere seeking to offer medical tourism should decide-
1. What medical services are anticipated in its business model?
2. What are the details of the proposed hospital facility and its location?
3. Where will the staffing (administrative, medical, nursing and allied health) of such a hospital be sourced?
4. What qualifications will they possess?
5. What work permits are required and for what period?
6. Who are the principals funding such a venture?
7. What are their qualifications in such a venture?
8. What role is the local medical community expected to play, if any?
9. What oversight of the practice and ethics of the industry are to be implemented and by what agency?