DOMINICAN REPUBLIC - Tourism
President & Founder, the Dominican Association of Health Tourism
Dr. Alejandro Cambiaso is one of the pioneers of preventive medicine within the Caribbean and the President and Founder of the Dominican Republic Health Tourism Association. He is a medical doctor, specialized in family medicine and preventive care, an MBA with a concentration in hospital administration (Unibe-FIU), a specialist in quality in healthcare, an ISO 9001 certified international quality auditor, a specialist in medical tourism certified by the MTA, with post-graduate diploma in social security, and internal medicine actualization from Harvard University. He is also a medical associate of the Cleveland Clinic Global Physician Program, and works as the Chief of International and Preventive Services at Hospital General de la Plaza de la Salud.
Medical tourism is the sector seeing the most growth within the health industry, by 25% a year. It represents at least 2.5% of travelers per plane, and the figures differ depending on the source. The Medical Tourism Association (MTA), which is based in the US, claims that about $60 billion is generated by medical tourism. That includes not only medical, per se, but also odontology and wellness in facilities such as spas. Medical tourism is growing rapidly because the world population is aging and becoming more affluent at rates that surpass the availability of quality health are resources, along with the long waiting lists in countries like the US and Canada, and the high cost of medical treatments; the first cause of bankruptcy for individuals in the US is health problems, making up 50% of cases. The US alone has 120 million people without dental insurance and 50 million people without health insurance, and sometimes even if you do have insurance there, the prices of treatments are still higher than if you come for the same treatment to countries like the Dominican Republic. People want cheaper and high quality treatments and travel for services like dental implants, cardiology, orthopedics procedures, oncology, checkups, weight-loss surgery, and plastic surgery. All of these represent the main areas of demand for our local clinics.
Medical tourism is a segment that helps to grow and diversify what is on offer. The key factors are quality, safety, certifications, JCI and ISQUA accreditation, and health centers of excellence. Not everybody can be a candidate to offer medical tourism services, as international criteria must be met. First, you have to comply with local criteria, such that the center needs to be licensed by the Ministry of Public Health and the professionals should be part of the medical college and their medical specialty society. In addition, the hospital should be certified and have international departments that manage the entire patient experience, and optimally accredited by the joint commission international (JCI). In the Dominican Republic, there are three centers working toward the accreditation process (Hospital General de la Plaza de la Salud, HOMS, CEDIMAT). Medical tourism is not a simple task. The goal is not only to give medical treatment; you also have to provide logistics support and a concierge service. Similarly, you need a person that coordinates the conditions for the tourist, where they are going to stay, the agenda, language assistance, the consent, financial matters, the follow-up, second opinions, and numerous additional services. Medical tourism should never be about lower prices alone. The main focus should be the patient experience, quality, safety, and great results. I strongly believe that the nation should work more closely with Medical Tourism Association (MTA) certification programs, also with the branding, destination guide, strategic planning, legal, and quality support to meet our goals and become a world-class medical tourism destination. My experience being a Medical Tourism Specialist certified by MTA, attending its congress and continuing education programs, has been fantastic and was the inspiration to establish the Dominican Health Tourism Association. The actual implementation of a medical tourism strategy has been partially the responsibility of the private sector, but we are looking for international strategic partners, public and private alliances, and the formation of clusters to unify and become a solid player.
Certified medical facilities in the Dominican Republic are modern and staffed with qualified doctors who speak English and are highly trained, receiving education on par with doctors in the US. The Universidad Iberoamericana (UNIBE) is the leading medical school in the region and has state-of-the-art facilities and an international training center. Many physicians have also studied abroad at world-renowned universities, so patients can make savings on medical treatments without compromising the quality and safety of the services. We are working diligently toward recertification, and looking forward to promoting a quality stamp to identify the hospitals that are up to standard in terms of human resources, and not just in terms of facilities or technology.
There has been much discussion related to the possibility of establishing such zones. The MFZs in the Dominican Republic have many advantages in terms of tax exemptions and logistics support. The advantage of establishing an MFZ is that you could establish an already-certified hospital in the Dominican Republic and enjoy certain tax exemptions and freedoms. This would then allow the center to maintain special relationships with insurance companies in other countries and attend to patients on a larger scale. If it is a place that is going to be secure and will have the same doctors and technology that they have back home, they can save 30% to 40% on a procedure. This would actually encourage international patients to visit us, and not cause competition among local doctors. We need to raise the bar on quality and improve the safety of those international patients who visit the country. We need a differentiating factor, because if we are going to pursue medical tourism in the Dominican Republic on a large scale and want to compete, we are already 10 years behind countries like Mexico or Colombia. To be on the map, we already have a great strategic location. We enjoy social peace, and great capacity, and excellent hotels. We have a culture of hospitality, but we need differentiating factors to compete more effectively. MFZs have the potential to make a real contribution to the Dominican Republic. Besides, we already have over 200,000 patients with international insurance going abroad to seek care. This would be a great way to retain our own capital. Any model that we choose has to be in consensus with the authorities because we need to promote the destination.
The Dominican Republic receives more than 4.5 million visitors a year, some of whom inevitably have accidents or get ill, and subsequently seek treatment, a situation not be defined as medical tourism as it is reactive. The country’s plastic surgeons saw over 1,000 patients in 2013 but, of those, many were absent Dominicans living abroad. Together last year, Grupo Rescue, HGPS International, CEDIMAT, and HOMS saw at least 20,000 international patients. Today, we are gathering information in cooperation with the authorities to obtain clearer statistics and work with more solid data.
© The Business Year – December 2014
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