UIW Becomes Home of Worldwide Research Center

By Rebecca Esparza ’99 BBA, ’04 MBA

Cities around the world have always touted their locales as tourist destinations. From sandy beaches to the Swiss Alps or a safari with exotic animals, the word tourism itself has the connotation of travel for leisure or pleasure.


CHRISTUS Muguerza Alta Especialidad has received recognition for the degree to which they have incorporated cutting-edge technology into daily clinical practice.

But Dr. David Vequist, associate professor in the H-E-B School of Business and Administration, has had a major hand in adding another term associated with that word: medical tourism. As an executive with Methodist Healthcare System in San Antonio during the 1990s, he noticed an increase in the number of Mexican nationals coming to the United States for their healthcare.

Conversely, “for years, many Hispanics in border states and regions have been going to Mexico to have dental work performed or to purchase pharmaceuticals at lower prices than found here in the United States,” he said. “And actually, the history of medical tourism is as old as civilization itself. In fact, affluent Romans used to go to natural hot springs in the area now known as Turkey for its perceived healing powers before Christ was even born.”

Medical tourism, also known as health or medical travel, began to gain popularity in 2001 when people in mostly Western, industrialized countries began to realize many health procedures could be purchased at 50 percent to 90 percent less in countries like India, Turkey or Costa Rica.

“I did my first research in this area with a colleague from St. Mary's University back in 2007, and it was quickly picked up by a medical blog. From there, I got accepted as an expert by the World Congress of Healthcare and was asked if I would deliver the keynote address later that year,” Vequist added.

A featured speaker at various medical and business conferences, Vequist has also written numerous articles and papers, as well as conducted interviews at medical tourism-themed venues, making him a highly-regarded authority on the subject.

He has also been instrumental in making UIW home to the newly launched Center for Medical Tourism Research, which serves as a premier academic center for tourism and travel research in the world.


Dr. David Vequist

“This is the first center in the world to focus on medical tourism research and is a partnership between the Medical Tourism Association and UIW,” said Vequist, the center’s founder and director. “We will provide high-quality research and thought-leadership in the economic, social justice and societal impacts of the medical tourism industry. The center will also uphold the Mission of the University of the Incarnate Word: faith, service, innovation, truth and education.”

He relishes his work, especially sharing his findings in an industry which has evolved significantly in a short period of time. Although he admits there is still much to learn.

“Everything we are discovering is so new and leads to different ways of thinking about what healthcare will be in the future. The ‘Holy Grail of Medical Tourism Research,’ (primary data of who, when, why and where) about medical tourists has yet to have been fully tapped.”

According to Vequist, by as early as next year, medical travel is expected to be a $40-billion-a-year business, with more than 780 million patients seeking care outside their principal country of residence.

The American Medical Association estimates the number of Americans traveling outside the United States for their healthcare was 150,000 in 2006 and predicts that number to jump to 750,000 when statistics become available for 2007.

“Fueling this trend is the low cost for treatment abroad,” he added. “A growing number of self-insured, under-insured and uninsured patients are also deciding to travel abroad for treatment.”

Texans living along the Mexican border flock to Grupo CHRISTUS Muguerza, with locations in Monterrey and Reynosa, Mexico. Seeking treatment for a wide variety of ailments including cancer, elective plastic surgery, organ transplants, heart surgery and bariatric surgery, prospective patients can visit the hospital group's Web site for prices on hundreds of medical procedures, listed alongside estimated costs of travel.

Since 2001, CHRISTUS Muguerza has been affiliated with CHRISTUS Health, a faith-based, nonprofit health system comprised of more than 50 hospitals and long-term care facilities throughout the United States. Officials with the hospital note they are proud of their commitment to high standards that focus on a patient’s overall well-being.

The hospital system is also one of the first in Mexico to be accredited by Joint Commission International, positioning it as the best option in this growing market.

“With this accreditation, the hard work and talent of each of our 3,600 CHRISTUS Muguerza employees is now recognized," said Arturo Garza Buerón, CEO of the CHRISTUS Muguerza Group.

"The accreditation confirms our world-class care, making us a preferred provider for international insurance companies and patients.”


CHRISTUS Muguerza Alta Especialidad Hospital in Monterrey, Mexico, has become a destination for patients seeking less expensive, quality medical treatments outside the United States.

CHRISTUS Muguerza offers quality healthcare comparable to the best in the world, he added, at a significant cost savings. Meanwhile, for patients considering care abroad, airfare is more affordable thanks in part to lower fuel prices.

Vequist said many patients have the means to seek these treatments and are trusting of the expertise and education level of foreign providers.

“Many of the medical personnel in foreign facilities are trained in western educational institutions,” noted Vequist, which alleviates the fears of many traveling patients. “The types of medical equipment and supplies they use are the same as what is found here and in Europe. The biggest difference is the cost of labor for medical practitioners and the high liability costs in the U.S., which has more litigation against medical providers than anywhere else in the world.”

A 2008 Deloitte study found that almost 40 percent of Americans would travel abroad for care if the quality of the care was comparable with that in the United States.

“We have a wonderful opportunity here at UIW to be the leader in this rapidly growing industry,” Vequist said. “This center could be at Harvard, Yale, Stanford or Oxford, but it isn't! We plan to continue to produce world-class research and thought leadership on this evolving and very important trend.”