TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Tucson is plunging into the medical tourism market, targeting Mexico to start.
Tucson Health Association is a public/private collaboration between the four major hospital groups in Tucson, Pima County and Tucson government and Visit Tucson, the tourism bureau.
The new partnership is expected to expand the tourism dollars already coming to Tucson.
"It's a huge market in the United States. Half-a-million people will come to the U.S. looking for medical tourism," said Visit Tucson Executive Vice President Felipe Garcia.
Most are not expected to fill the hospitals, but they are expected to fill hotels, restaurants and more.
"A number of folks will come up to support their family members and those people need to have a place to stay, a place to eat, things to do," said Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild. "Everything we can do to help our economy grow is good for the entire community. It creates jobs. It creates additional revenue that can got to all of the services that we need."
"The services that are being provided largely are going to be outpatient services and so it's not necessarily going to take away from our in-patient services and if we can improve our outpatient services, our volume and add value to that, then I think that's a great one for all of Tucson," Tucson Medical Center Medical Director for Medical Services Dr. J. Manuel Arreguin.
Houston gets about 16,000 medical tourists a year, and Tucson wants a piece of that pie.
"We know that we have the best medical services--that we can compete with Houston, with Florida, with any other destination," said Visit Tucson's Garcia.
"They're coming here mostly for elective surgery procedures. They're paying cash. They have a credit card or they're paying cash," Garcia said.
Garcia said there will be a website, concierge service and more to help medical tourists plan their trip.
He said phase one of the medical tourism initiative will target Mexico. Phase two will come in about a year when the initiative sets its sites on Canada, according to Garcia
The four hospital organizations involved in the Tucson Health Association are Banner Health, Carondelet Health Network, Northwest Medical Center and Tucson Medical Center.