We here at Retire Early Lifestyle like to keep you up to date with usable information on Medical Tourism. Prices of medical care and health insurance can be a challenge to retirement dreams, and Medical Travel is a workable answer for many.
David Bolick and his partner Bryan Clark are the owners of MediTravel Solutions in Jalisco, Mexico. Read below for answers to your Medical Tourism questions.
Retire Early Lifestyle: David, thank you for taking the time to do this interview with us. Could you tell us a little about your background?
David Bolick: Most of my work has been in the field of translating/interpreting, proofreading and teaching English as a second language. I’ve also traveled a fair bit, have lived in seven different South American countries and visited extensively in three others. After a scary bout with a debilitating idiopathic respiratory ailment in Brazil in 1990 I took up running and started taking health more seriously.
REL: What was your motivation to begin your business of MediTravel Solutions?
DB: When I needed the services of an orthopedic surgeon here in Mexico, I was impressed by the combination of professionalism and very personal care that I was given. I also regularly volunteered to help as an interpreter for others who had medical and dental needs, and saw almost universal satisfaction with the treatment and care they received. So when a friend approached me with the idea of joining forces with another facilitator and offering our services to a wider market, it just made good common sense.
When I was a very young boy and people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said I wanted to be a doctor, but a traumatic trip to the emergency room when I was 12 nixed those plans! I wound up studying literature and my career took a different tack, but now through medical travel facilitation I feel I have an opportunity to bring those earlier dreams into sync with the communication skills I acquired as an adult by acting as a cultural bridge and helping bring an awesome supply to what is obviously a great demand.
REL: How long have you been in business?
DB: Although my business partner Bryan Clark and I have both been providing facilitation services for several years, we first began doing the groundwork for building MediTravel Solutions as an official business enterprise in the beginning of 2011.
REL: What were the biggest challenges you faced?
DB: The 24-hour day and the seven-day week! There was so much to do and learn. An incredible amount of research was needed as we learned the ropes of doing business in Mexico while at the same time visiting and getting to know the area hospitals until we felt confident that we had learned what we needed to know and were prepared to begin offering medical travel packages based on the areas of excellence of the individual hospitals.
We have been fortunate to have met many helpful people along the way. Very early on in our venture, we got involved with the Jalisco Medical tourism Cluster. Having had the benefit of working closely with the administrators of the cluster and several consultants who were brought in to advise the cluster hospitals has provided us with a wealth of experience and knowledge, and reinforced the conviction that we are providing an invaluable service.
REL: We have been proponents of Medical Tourism for two decades now, long before it became a common topic of discussion. Do you find that people still balk at the idea of traveling to a foreign country to receive medical care?
DB: There is a huge amount of misinformation and negative preconceptions to overcome, and the comfort zone has a stronger gravitational pull than the planet Jupiter!
Being personally acquainted with the first class attention and treatments available at such affordable prices, when we first got started, we thought the whole world would beat a path to our door, clamoring for our services. We have had to accept the reality though, that this choice is simply not for everybody. The majority are not going to venture out. I imagine you discovered a similar phenomenon when you retired at 38 and were surprised to find how few followed suit. But those few who do take you up on your offer make all your efforts more than worth it. I dare say we’re just a bit ahead of the curve, and increasingly more people will follow this trend.
REL: What do you find to be the biggest fear that prevents people from utilizing Medical Tourism?
DB: I think it’s twofold.
My dad would often say, “If something seems too good to be true, then it probably is.” People are so inured to advertising’s exaggerated claims and have seen so many scams that it’s hard not to send Medical Tourism’s promises to the spam folder without serious consideration. And in our case the sensational press has pretty effectively gotten most people north of the border to believe that if they came here they’d get kidnapped, mowed down in drug cartel crossfire, or wake up after anesthesia to discover that they’d been relieved of one of their kidneys or part of their liver without their consent!
Many who are otherwise well informed actually believe—or are genuinely spooked by—stuff like that.
REL: How do you counter those fears?
DB: One of my favorite sound bites is based on actual U.S. State Department statistics: “A North American is more likely to be struck by lightning than to become a victim of drug-related violence on a trip to Mexico.”
I also like to enlighten people about the truly first world reality of modern-day Mexico, the 14th largest economy in the world and growing robustly—the second fastest growing economy in the Western Hemisphere and nipping at the heels of number one, Brazil. It will probably overtake Brazil soon, if it hasn’t already.
Trade between Mexico and the US reached 473 billion dollars by the end of 2012, a historic value in bilateral relations. This is the third consecutive year this number increased and signifies a 0.9% growth, compared to 2011. And in the area of medicine, Mexico was the 11th exporter worldwide of medical equipment in 2008 and is the largest exporter of pharmaceuticals in Latin America. The Autonomous University of Guadalajara’s Faculty of Medicine has over 14,000 graduates practicing medicine in all 50 states of the U.S.A. A “failed state” doesn’t turn out stats like that, and given such a backdrop, one would think pretty decent medical attention could be obtained here.
I also like to encourage folks to talk with or read people’s blogs who actually live in or have visited Mexico, and then conduct their own calm, non-slanted appraisal of the situation without the popular presuppositions.
REL: What services does MediTravel Solutions offer?
DB: We work with the hospitals of the Jalisco Medical Tourism Cluster, ten of the top private hospitals in Guadalajara, who collectively offer over 70 different surgical medical procedures.
Once we know what procedure you are interested in we can put you in touch with a doctor and a hospital with that specialty, often offering you a choice among more than one. If you decide to come to Mexico for treatment, we can help with travel arrangements if you wish, and secure lodging for you at reduced rates, as well as arrange tours and excursions to complement your trip. Your own personal health service coordinator will meet you at the airport, take you to your hotel and to all medical visits plus be on hand for medical translation/interpreting needs.
REL: What makes you different than other Medical Concierge sites that offer Medical Tourism services?
DB: Ours is a personalized, boutique type service. We live and work here in Guadalajara and the nearby Lake Chapala area. We’ve been here for seven years and have been able to help many with their medical and dental needs. As members of the communities where we live we are personally invested in the area. We’re not just farming you out to someone we don’t know in a place we’ve never been.
REL: Tell us a little about the staff of doctors with whom you work. Do they speak English? Where have they been trained? Does a patient need to speak Spanish in order to take advantage of the medical services you offer?
DB: Most of the doctors we work with speak English and have received their training here in Mexico as well as in the best medical facilities of the world. Many of them have conducted research in their respective professions and are highly regarded authorities. A patient need not be a Spanish speaker to benefit from their services.
The state of Jalisco, aside from being the birthplace of Tequila and the Mariachi, is also known for its artists. Among the most famous, muralist Jose Clemente Orozco was born here, as was guitarist Carlos Santana. Surgery and dentistry are not generally regarded as art forms, but in my experience with different doctors and dentists here, I’ve seen talent, a love for detail and a passion for excellence that reminds me of the same creative artistic dedication I’ve seen in poets, musicians, painters and dancers.
REL: What role does the patient’s primary care physician play?
DB: The role of a patient’s primary care physician is crucial, as he or she will not only need to be consulted before a procedure can be carried out, helping ascertain in communication with the specialist here that the patient is truly in need of and a candidate for the treatment in question, but they will also be key in any follow-up attention afterwards. Receiving medical treatment abroad ought not be an interruption to one’s normal medical care but rather an enhancement to it, providing treatment that would be unavailable or prohibitively expensive at home, and then continuing with one’s customary healthcare upon return.
REL: What about the hospitals that you utilize in your business? You know that people will ask if they are of similar quality that they can find in the States or Canada.
DB: All of the hospitals in the Jalisco Medical Tourism Cluster are certified by Mexico’s General Health Board, whose requirements are 80-90% homologous with those of the Joint Commission International. A Cluster member hospital was chosen to be the official provider of medical services to participants in the Panamerican Games in 2011, as well as the hospital designated for the visits to this city by the Presidents of The United States and of Mexico.
Maria Todd, MHA PhD, founder and CEO of The Mercury Healthcare Companies, has worked for over 30 years in the fields of health and medical travel and has inspected hospitals in major cities on five continents, including Guadalajara, near the favorite expat retirement area of Lake Chapala.
I served as her interpreter during her visit to the Cluster hospitals and asked her for her assessment. This is what she said: “From a technology, quality, safety, and customer service orientation, many of the hospitals in Guadalajara are on a par with some of the better hospitals I’ve inspected in the USA and abroad.”
REL: What makes your team of doctors and hospitals different than what someone may find “back home?”
DB: One word—time. Doctors have time for you—time to listen, time to answer your questions, time to get to know you. The Mexican medical landscape is not a minefield of litigation threats, so doctors have not been conditioned to practice “defensive medicine,” asking for every conceivable study and test before going ahead with a procedure. Instead they can simply rely on their professional training and experience and recommend what they deem necessary. This also translates into more time for you. And if they feel a procedure is not truly warranted, they’ll tell you that too.
REL: What is included in the prices you quote? Are there any hidden fees? I don’t think people would welcome surprises like that. Do you have payment plans or must patients pay up front?
DB: Our quote covers the total cost of the treatment, which includes hospitalization costs, doctor’s fees, medication administered in the hospital, all operating room related charges and any medical devices required for the procedure. Payment for the procedure and our local transportation and translation services is generally required in advance, unless some other arrangement with an insurance or finance company has been made.
Some things are not included in the cost of treatment, such as medications prescribed upon discharge from the hospital, massage sessions or other post-op follow-up therapy, since this varies from patient to patient, but we try to give a ball park estimate of what those will be.
And then, of course, lodging and food and any extras are also calculated in addition to the cost of treatment.
REL: It’s one thing to have a crown or dental implant done through Medical Tourism. But what if a patient has a serious condition like cancer or a heart issue? What sort of medical procedures are provided through MediTravel Solutions?
DB: As I said above, the Jalisco Medical Tourism Cluster hospitals offer over 70 surgical procedures, ranging from open-heart surgery to the latest in cancer treatment. They also offer a wide variety of specialized studies, with the best imaging equipment and laboratory capabilities.
REL: Who does follow up care? What happens if “something goes wrong?” Do your doctors work with the doctors of the patient back in their home country?
DB: Referring back to what we said about the primary care physician, before deciding on a course of treatment or a surgical procedure, the treating physician is as certain as possible that it will be successful. The patient returns to his or her home country with a full medical record of everything that took place and is encouraged to stay in touch with the doctor who performed the procedure and maintain close communication between him/her and the patient’s primary care physician.
REL: Does someone stay in the hospital after their procedure or do you offer a place for recuperation? What if a spouse or other loved one wants to accompany the patient? Where do they stay?
DB: Most hospital stays are for a day or two, and then the patient can go to any of several hotels, B&Bs or spas for recuperation. A spouse or loved one can generally stay with her for no extra charge.
REL: What is the patient’s responsibility in receiving this medical care in a foreign country?
DB: Since the treating physician here has no previous experience with the patient, he needs as accurate a picture as possible of the condition to be remedied. The patient should therefore be completely transparent with regards to his or her medical history and present condition, and provide as much as he or she can in terms of previous test results, etc. Just as his or her primary care physician needs to be kept in the loop, so the physician here needs to be fully informed.
REL: If someone is interested in your services or would like to know more, how can they contact you?
DB: You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or if you’d like to chat, we can be reached via Skype at meditravelsolutions_mex.
We at Retire Early Lifestyle would like to thank David for his time and willingness to share his insight and professional opinion on the topic of Medical Tourism.
Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance and world travel. With the wealth of information they share on their popular website RetireEarlyLifestyle.com, they have been helping people achieve their own retirement dreams since 1991. They wrote the popular books, The Adventurer’s Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible.