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San Diego Magazine: Go South For Sun, Surf, and Surgery 10/1/2012

 

Go South for Sun, Surf, and Surgery

Tijuana rolls out the red carpet for medical tourists, and San Diego could be in a position to reap some of the benefits

Border into Mexico at Tijuana

Baja California is booming, with tourists flocking south of the border for lobster tacos, secret surf spots, Napa-quality wines... and surgery. Yes, surgery. After a drop in 2008 and 2009, attributable to the recession, swine flu outbreak, and rising drug gang violence, medical tourism is back in a big way in Baja California. Tijuana is feeling the economic boost—to the tune of $46 million—and San Diego is reaping some of the benefits, too. 

Take Jim Byrne, for example. The 70-year-old retired sociologist from Gainesville, Florida, recently spent more than a month in San Diego, traveling across the border to have a new type of cataract surgery—just approved in Mexico but not yet available in the U.S.—done by Dr. Arturo Chayet at the Codet Vision Institute.

“The costs of medical treatment in the U.S. are so high, it’s getting just ridiculous,” Byrne says. “Plus, you get an appointment with a specialist [in Mexico] much quicker.” Byrne’s eye surgery at Codet cost about $4,000 per eye.
His research showed in Europe it would be about $9,000 per eye.

A Baja Tourism Ministry study showed that in 2010, 400,000 people travelled to Baja California seeking medical services, with more than 60 percent of those travelling to Tijuana. Those figures have increased 10 percent in 2011 and 2012. Many Americans head to Tijuana for procedures that are either not covered at all or not fully covered by health insurance plans, like dentistry and eye, cosmetic, and weight-loss surgeries.

“Presently, Tijuana has an objective: The U.S. and Canada markets.”

Fernando Ramírez Luquín, Codet’s administrative director, says the clinic treats about 100 American patients a month, most from Southern California. The number has been steadily increasing since 1995, when American patients began seeking more affordable Lasik surgery (the clinic specializes in Lasik and IntraOcular Lens surgery). He estimates about half the clinic’s American patients stay in San Diego and travel to Tijuana for treatment, like Byrne; the rest stay in Tijuana. In all, Byrne says he made 10 trips across the border, on the clinic’s shuttle. He spent one night in Tijuana, taking advantage of a Codet hotel deal.

 

Codet makes special accommodations for medical tourists from across the border, such as providing bilingual staff, a free shuttle bus to San Diego, and package deals with Tijuana hotels and restaurants. Luquín says the clinic is ramping up its efforts to attract more patients from the U.S. through Internet advertising and Facebook.

It helps that patients like Byrne give Dr. Chayet high marks. “It was a great experience overall,” Byrne says. “The staff and doctors are very well trained and competent; the facility is modern and up to date.”

In addition to renting a room in San Diego, Byrne also paid for attraction tickets and ate out at restaurants. In all he spent about $2,700 on this trip, beyond the cost of the medical procedure itself—almost all of that in San Diego.

It’s these additional travel dollars that have the Baja California Tourism Office rolling out the red carpet. Dr. Adrián Murillo, the Baja California Medical Tourism representative, says the city of Tijuana welcomes medical tourists with bilingual staff, free shuttle buses, package deals with local hotels and restaurants, and even a special Fast Pass to the SENTRI lane at the border, allowing them to skip to the front of the line when returning to the U.S.

Numbers have been steadily increasing since 2010, and investors are spending big money all over Baja California. For example, the 119-bed private Hospital Angeles in Tijuana’s Zona Rio focused on medical tourists when it opened in 2004, with private rooms, a medical fitness center, an auditorium, and gardens. It now sees about 100 to 150 patients from the U.S. per month, mostly seeking weight-loss surgeries as well as some orthopedic, neurological, and cardiac procedures, often offered at as low as one-tenth the price in America. The hospital even formed its own company to offer travel, accommodations, and other services to foreign patients.

 

Established in 1986 · 1st IntraLASIK worldwide in 1995 · 1st Light Adjustable Lens worldwide in 2002
De México
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