Regulation of the medical tourism and public health sectors overlap in many instances, raising questions of how patient safety, economic growth, and health equity can be protected. The case of Guatemala is used to explore how the regulatory challenges posed by medical tourism should be dealt with in countries seeking to grow this sector.
We conducted a qualitative case study of the medical tourism sector in Guatemala, through reviews and analyses of policy documents and media reports, key informant interviews (n = 50), and facility site-visits.
Key informants were critical of the absence of effective public regulation of the emerging medical tourism sector, noting several regulatory gaps and the importance of filling them. These informants specifically expressed that: 1) The government should regulate medical tourism in Guatemala, thought there was disagreement as to which government sector should do so and how; 2) The government has not at this time regulated the medical tourism sector nor shown great interest in doing so; and 3) International accreditation could be used to augment domestic regulation.
The intersection of domestic and international regulation of medical tourism has been largely unexplored. This case study advances new research in this area. It highlights the need for and dearth of regulatory protections in Guatemala and lessons for other, similarly situated countries. National regulatory models from Israel and Barbados could be adapted to the Guatemalan context. Global governance could help to protect national governments from any competitive disadvantages created by regulation. Underlying the concerns over growth in medical tourism, however, is how it contributes to the ongoing privatization of health care facilities worldwide. This trend risks undermining efforts to reach targets for Universal Health Coverage and exacerbating existing inequities in the global distribution of health and wealth.