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Island may cash in on medical tourism

Tourism Minister Patrice Minors is actively exploring the expansion of medical tourism as a way to fill Bermuda’s empty hotel beds.

Cashing in on ‘medical tourists’ as well as their families and doctors looks set to be one of the recommendations of the National Tourism Plan.

Ms Minors recently met Health Minister Zane DeSilva to try to push forward the idea of using medical tourism as “a revenue generator.”

The medical tourism industry is big business across the world and was introduced at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital last year with a new prostate cancer treatment unavailable in the States.

But Government is now working behind-the-scenes to “take things further” by actively promoting Bermuda as a medical destination.

It is hoped that Bermuda’s struggling tourism industry will reap the benefits of large numbers of people coming for lengthy stays. Bermuda’s proximity to the US and the offer of recovering in a beachside setting are understood to make Bermuda an attractive destination for patients.

Ms Minors hopes medical tourism will help to pump millions of dollars into the economy.

She said: “We see medical tourism as a revenue generator for the future.

“Going forward this is a way we can help to boost hotel stays. We hope that hotels of all sizes will benefit.

“This has been on our radar for a while, but now we are really seeing the potential in developing this.

“We’re committed to encouraging medical tourism and working together with the Ministry of Health to promote this.”

Bermuda Hospitals Board has previously announced that High Intensity Focused Ultrasound (HIFU) generated 1,000 bed nights for local hotels in its first nine months. And since the start of this year 45 HIFU patients have been welcomed to KEMH.

HIFU is a non-invasive alternative to chemotherapy, is advertised on a video promoting Bermuda as a paradise island. KEMH is described on the video as a beautiful facility with state-of-the-art operating rooms and well-respected medical staff.

If medical tourism is broadened, other procedures could include cosmetic surgeries, joint replacement, fertilisation, cardiac surgery and even dental treatment.

In an interview during her leadership campaign, Premier Paula Cox said medical tourism could offer a boost to the Island’s economy. She said patients from North America would fly to Bermuda, for treatment or recovery, in the same way they currently travel to Europe to avoid long waiting lists or high costs.

During his time as Premier, physician Dr Ewart Brown also spoke a number of times about the benefits of medical tourism, saying: “People will travel to be healed”.

The One Bermuda Alliance has also spoken out in support of the concept, providing the relevant medical experts are consulted.

Ms Minors said the National Tourism Plan remained a work in process, but said medical tourism was a “hot button topic” as well as gaming, hotel development, public transportation and setting up a tourism authority.

These ideas will be put to the public at a series of town hall meetings next month to obtain feedback that will go towards the drafting of a Cabinet Paper.

Ms Minors said: “I recognise that we need to do something different. The very reason I set up the Tourism Board was to take the tourism product to another level”.

Shadow Tourism Minister Patricia Gordon-Pamplin touched on the issue of medical tourism recently when she tabled a motion in the House of Assembly calling for the creation of a Tourism Authority.

She told

The Royal Gazette: “The fact that the Tourism Minister is consulting with the Health Minister is in keeping with the suggestion, however, it is important to note that our recommendation precluded ambulance-chasing or any procedure that is not supported by the AMA or other such reputable body.

“In the absence of expert knowledge in this field by either the Minister of Tourism or the Minister of Health, the health board of a Tourism Authority could explore the viability of this initiative, with appropriate practitioners in the health field.

“It is also critical that jurisdictional integrity is not compromised, as we must ensure that a patient does not end up with a toe where his eye should have been, and to say it was done in Bermuda”

Shadow Health Minister Kathy Michelmore said the OBA recognised that medical tourism was a worldwide industry and Bermuda residents participated by going overseas to obtain medical care not available on the Island.

She said: “Can such an industry be a factor in revitalising our tourism product? The OBA believes that this is possible if it is comprehensively developed as part of an overall strategic plan for tourism, but that there are essential factors that must be addressed.

“The OBA would be opposed to provision of services in Bermuda which do not represent internationally recognised good practice.

“We must also ensure that there is sufficient capacity within our medical system to absorb increased numbers of ‘medical tourists’. Bermuda has a duty to provide safe and effective healthcare for our residents.

“If an influx of medical tourists will take up hospital beds, adversely impact waiting times for appointments and procedures, and drain resources available to locals, this would obviously be undesirable.

“This industry cannot be developed effectively without careful planning across Ministries. An assessment of current capacity and resources is essential, as is a plan which anticipates the growth, direction and impact of medical tourism on our community”.

A Bermuda Hospitals Board spokeswoman said medical tourism was “an exciting area to be involved in” saying that “seeking new opportunities is a strategic goal”.

She said: “The benefits go beyond the hospital. Medical tourists come with family members and healthcare teams, all of whom need accommodation, food, transport and may enjoy other tourist activities during their stay. Such visitors contribute positively to Bermuda’s tourism product.

“From a quality perspective, BHB will only consider offering treatments and procedures to medical tourists that are evidence-based and meet the standard of appropriate bodies … This means we review potential medical tourism opportunities extremely carefully. However, the potential is there to benefit the hospital and Bermuda and we are looking forward to informing the community on our progress”.

The spokeswoman added that BHB’s priority was to deliver quality healthcare services to the local population and medical tourism would not affect that. She said rather than leaving operating rooms unused, they could earn revenue by using them for medical tourism.

The spokeswoman added: “This helps us financially, without stressing the local healthcare economy and these additional funds get reinvested into local services.

“It can also help with recruitment as our healthcare professionals, such as nurses and anaesthetists, have the opportunity to work on some quality, leading treatments and procedures with international specialists”.

Revenue stream: Government is considering pursuing medical tourism as a way of filling hotel beds.

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Published August 15, 2011 at 2:00 am (Updated August 15, 2011 at 9:29 am)

Island may cash in on medical tourism

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