Certifications Key to Attracting Patients to the CoastSat, 09/05/2015 - 13:13
Q: What was the original idea behind Hospital Galenia’s establishment?
A: Despite the fact that Cancun is the number one tourist destination in Latin America, up until ten years ago the medical system was inadequate, with residential homes and hotels being used as clinics and makeshift hospitals. I came to Cancun 20 years ago and, coming from a private practice based in Polanco in Mexico City, I was used to cutting-edge hospitals with state-of-the-art equipment and processes, so I felt an enormous responsibility to do something to raise the quality of care here. I drew up a lot of plans for approximately 12 years before we managed to begin the Hospital Galenia project. We opened the hospital’s doors on March 10, 2006.
Q: In what way has the hospital developed the services it offers to patients and how did you unlock the potential of medical tourism in Cancun?
A: Originally, the hospital was created to help local people. Foreign patients never really crossed my mind as my focus was on alleviating the healthcare situation in Cancun. The first wing consisted of hospitalization with three operating rooms and a laboratory, using robust technology that had not existed in the area previously. Within a year and a half, we had to expand the hospital by 12 rooms to meet demand and, just two years ago, we saw the need and opportunity to build a second wing for the hospital, expanding into neighboring land. This new wing allowed us to build 30 new rooms and seven operating rooms, and to renovate three existing operating rooms in the previous wing. The money was then divided into two parts: reinvestment into renovations, and the building of a new oncology center. In the second wing, we also began a program to research and develop diagnostic medicine, and we installed specialized facilities with state-of-the-art technology for the diagnostic research. As we grew, we were collaborating with international insurance companies and hotels to treat tourists with medical needs. Gradually we became more involved with the medical tourism trade to the extent that we have opened a position in the hospital for a medical tourism representative, someone who has a degree in tourism and also knows about the medical industry.
Q: To what extent has the medical tourism industry grown in your hospital?
A: About 80% of our patients come from the local area, and about 20% are tourists. It is important to point out that along with the infrastructure to handle medical emergencies for tourists, Cancun is attracting patients seeking highly specialized treatment. There are several clinical trials in our hospital such as stem cells and groundbreaking cancer treatments that are not available in the US, and therefore patients come here to take part. We see around 80 patients per month for stem cell treatment, such is the success that we are considering beginning to develop the cells in our own laboratories instead of importing them from the US. It is unusual that patients come from abroad for treatment of life-threatening conditions,; we tend to perform more cosmetic surgery, and orthopedic surgery, which accounts for most of our foreign patients. A lot of people come here for diagnostics, having heard about the quality of our equipment; for instance, we can quickly detect any cancer. We also have chemotherapy and radiotherapy equipment and a lot of patients come from South America for this treatment.
Q: What is the value proposition of Cancun in general and Hospital Galenia in particular for attracting medical tourism?
A: We can offer the same advantages as traditional tourism, and it helps that Cancun is the premier tourist destination in Latin America. I would say that Cancun has a better medical infrastructure today than 20 years ago; however, more work is needed to offer more quality services for both the local population and tourists. In fact, having a quality medical infrastructure is part of the travel motivations of many tourists who want to feel protected and secure during their vacation. Comprehensive infrastructure for family vacations in a well-connected city with more direct flights to the US and Europe, even more than Mexico City, is really important. The hospitals in Cancun are becoming equipped with the advanced technology you would find in prestigious hospitals in other countries in the world. We have 55 rooms and everything a patient could possibly want. People do not only look for affordable medical treatment, they want the guarantee of international certifications and qualified, specialized doctors. The quality we offer assures patients of a low risk of infection or reactions to medications because we do not take shortcuts. In summary, we offer the same standard of care as any major hospital in the US, but at a third of the price.
Q: What criteria do overseas patients generally look for when assessing treatment options at Hospital Galenia?
A: The most important is price, but patients also consider certifications, prestige, and doctor qualifications. They normally want to speak to the doctor and establish a relationship to be reassured of their qualifications before making a decision. Another priority is security and it is extremely safe here. They look at the hospital and its facilities and technology, and obviously the certifications are carefully considered in the decision making process. Moreover, the more satisfied patients go back to their countries after receiving treatment in Mexico, the more patients we will be able to attract as a country. We are committed to building a strong and trustworthy perception among foreigners, not only for the sake of Hospital Galenia, but to benefit Mexico as a medical tourism destination.
Q: Hospital Galenia has JCI, GHC, and Canada International accreditations. What has obtaining these certifications meant for the hospital?
A: Initially, the reason for achieving international accreditations was giving peace of mind to foreign customers and cutting down bureaucracy for the patient. With the accreditation we receive many more private patients, meaning that payment is faster and they do not need to wait to be reimbursed by insurance companies. Then, we began to realize that people tended to trust our hospital because we had this extra international accreditation which creates the recognition of quality and reduced risk. The GHC revises them regularly and, depending on the standard of care provided, the certification is issued for one, two or three years. Ours was issued for three years. We then began to consider the JCI, the most respected accreditation in the US, because in Canada, as a result of their nationalized health service, private healthcare practically does not exist, so with this accreditation we can further cut down waiting times for patients from all of North America.
Q: To what extent does the government promote Cancun as a medical tourism destination and how does Hospital Galenia support this initiative?
A: In terms of the government, there are three key players in the promotion of the medical tourism industry: the Ministry of Tourism, the Ministry of Finance, and the Ministry of Health. They run a lot of initiatives, one of which is incentivizing hospitals to participate in the certification process, nationally and internationally. For example, the Ministry of Health can limit the type of surgeries carried out by the hospital if it does not have the correct processes in place. Moreover, the Ministry of Tourism will refuse to promote any hospitals without inadequate certification and obviously government promotion can significantly help to generate business. The Ministry of Finance awards the largest grants to certified hospitals, so Hospital Galenia aims to constantly improve standards of hospital care, and government organizations have been created such as the Association of Medical Tourism in Quintana Roo, for which I am the Vice President. The government also works with the hotels, shops, and transport agencies to provide packages for medical tourists. The experience from the moment the patient purchases a flight can include arrangements for airport transfers, hotel accommodation and aftercare treatment. It is a matter of creating and sharing appropriate infrastructure throughout Cancun to generate a high-quality customer experience from the moment patients arrive until they return home.
Q: How competitive is the medical tourism market in Cancun?
A: The competition is not too fierce because, first of all, we are the only JCI certified hospital in Cancun. There are other hospitals in the process of being certified which we support because Hospital Galenia simply cannot cope with the volume of patients. Helping other facilities to become certified is in our best interests because we want to promote medical tourism as a viable industry in Mexico. At the end of this year, we plan to set up the first Galenia clinic in Playa del Carmen. After that, we are planning a Galenia clinic in Tuxtla Gutierrez in Chiapas. After that we plan to expand to Los Cabos.
All business owners have a role to play in promoting the medical tourism industry in Cancun, which is made easier with government support. As a hospital, we are part of a network of enterprises, both foreign and domestic, such as insurance companies, in order to facilitate the process. Increasingly, healthcare solutions firms like Intermed, and a growing number of insurance companies, are looking to Latin America as a way to avoid the rising costs of healthcare in the US. As a result, insurance companies can become a new market for us and we are always looking to expand into new demographics. We must now carry out the necessary work in collaboration with all industries that can support tourism in order to cope with the volume that these markets can bring.