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Medical tourism, Health services, Central America, Caribbean



Many governments and health care providers worldwide are enthusiastic to develop medical tourism as a service export. Despite the popularity of this policy uptake, there is relatively little known about the specific local factors prospectively motivating and informing development of this sector.


To identify common social, economic, and health system factors shaping the development of medical tourism in three Central American and Caribbean countries and their health equity implications.


In-depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted in Mexico, Guatemala, and Barbados with 150 health system stakeholders. Participants were recruited from private and public sectors working in various fields: trade and economic development, health services delivery, training and administration, and civil society. Transcribed interviews were coded using qualitative data management software, and thematic analysis was used to identify cross-cutting issues regarding the drivers and inhibitors of medical tourism development.


Four common drivers of medical tourism development were identified: 1) unused capacity in existing private hospitals, 2) international portability of health insurance, vis-a-vis international hospital accreditation, 3) internationally trained physicians as both marketable assets and industry entrepreneurs, and 4) promotion of medical tourism by public export development corporations. Three common inhibitors for the development of the sector were also identified: 1) the high expense of market entry, 2) poor sector-wide planning, and 3) structural socio-economic issues such as insecurity or relatively high business costs and financial risks.


There are shared factors shaping the development of medical tourism in Central America and the Caribbean that help explain why it is being pursued by many hospitals and governments in the region. Development of the sector is primarily being driven by public investment promotion agencies and the private health sector seeking economic benefits with limited consideration and planning for the health equity concerns medical tourism raises.


Original publication available at:

Johnston, R., Crooks, V. A., Cerón, A., Labonté, R., Snyder, J., Núñez, E.O., & Flores, W.G. (2016). Providers’ perspectives on inbound medical tourism in Central America and the Caribbean: factors driving and inhibiting sector development and their health equity implications. Global Health Action, 9(1). DOI:

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.