Hospital Clinica Biblica is one of the most well known hospitals in Latin America. Brad Cook is one of the major reasons why the hospital has been receiving the lion’s share of international patients to Costa Rica.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I was born in Costa Rica at Hospital Clinica Biblica of US parents. I had quite an adventurous childhood growing up between Costa Rica, the United States and Brazil, never quite knowing where home was. After finishing High School in Costa Rica, I moved to Michigan where I not only managed to survive the harsh winters but received my degree from Calvin College. After graduation I was not quite sure where to call home and finally concluded I would be best served avoiding another Michigan winter and returning to Costa Rica where my parents and siblings had settled down.
I spent my first three or four years there running and developing a scuba business with a business partner before finally settling down at Hospital Clinica Biblica. After a few years of business development, I was able to develop my own company within the hospital running all the International Insurance Billing and developing the Medical Tourism Project for the hospital as the Director of the International Department.
Please explain your role at Hospital Clinica Biblica in Costa Rica.
My company runs the International Department for the hospital and our duties include assisting foreign patients, billing all the international insurance claims for the hospital and doctors and coordinating and developing the hospital’s Medical Tourism project.
What kind of growth have you seen in Medical Tourism in the last few years?
We were quite concerned initially that the financial crisis would have a negative impact on the number of patients visiting our hospital and even though there was an initial decrease things quickly returned to normal and are now on the upswing.
Overall there seems to be quite a bit of momentum building in regards to medical tourism as we have seen increased interest from insurance companies and employers to research and implement Medical Tourism.
I think the financial crisis and health care debate raging in the US have brought heightened awareness to medical tourism and are acting as a catalyst that could catapult the entire industry forward.
What do you see as one of the biggest growth potentials for medical tourism in the future?
Due to the high costs for healthcare in the US I see the biggest potential growth coming from US insurance companies and employers as they look to lower costs by taking advantage of the huge savings and high quality available at top hospitals overseas.
Gradually, the barriers to traveling overseas have been coming apart at the seams and I believe it is only a matter of time before large insurance carriers and employers include an international component to their plans. Tell us why there is so much potential growth for medical tourism in Latin America.
The most obvious reason initially is our proximity to the United States and the overall comfort level visitors feel, along with the familiarity with the Latin American culture and its beauty. More important however, is the fact that we truly have some great hospitals and healthcare systems in our region that offer exceptional care at a fraction of what you would pay elsewhere.
Add to this the fact that our culture is much more relational which means that doctors, nurses and recovery hotel staffs invest the time and energy necessary to build relationships and trust with patients.
HCB has a reputation of treating patients like Royalty. What does HCB do that is different and sets itself apart?
There is not one thing that sets us apart but a combination of a lot of little things that have a huge overall impact on the patient’s experience.
We definitely pride ourselves on making our patients feel special and the key to this has really been having a process in place so every detail is covered and the patient can arrive, relax and focus on their surgery and recovery.
We have put together an exceptional International Patient Program that walks the patient through the entire process from their initial email all the way to the follow up that occurs once they return home. Key in all of this is responding to the prospective patient quickly and with the proper information that allows the patient to make an informed decision.
Our team includes a phenomenal group of physicians that speak English fluently and are committed to lavishing extra attention on our patients to ensure that they are truly comfortable with the entire experience.
On top of this, our patient coordinators support the patient with rapid responses to their emails and phone calls and by ensuring they are available for questions through the entire process. They often become like extended family for the patient during their medical visit.
We also have an association of recovery retreats and inns in Costa Rica that provide amazing options and amenities for the patient to recuperate in after their surgery. It is also encouraging to international patients that most of our staff are from the United States or have at the very least resided there at some point in their life, so they not only speak the language but are familiar with the North American culture and the high expectations of American patients.
There seems to be a disconnect, where some hospitals are doing really well attracting foreign patients, while other hospitals or clinics are not having the same success. Where are these other hospitals going wrong?
Obviously there are many internal and external factors that influence whether or not your hospital is successful at attracting foreign patients.
As the head of an International Program, you can work to change the perception of your country as an attractive or safe destination; however, you cannot change your location on the map.
The greatest disconnect I see occurs when hospitals claim they are committed to attracting foreign patients but then do not follow through and put the necessary internal elements in place to build and sustain a successful program.
Often, we hear patients and facilitators comment that they chose our hospital simply because we were able to respond to them quickly and effectively in their native language providing the kind of relevant information they were seeking.
This entire process demands time and consistency and requires a considerable amount of commitment on behalf of the hospital. It is vital for any top hospital who wants to be a serious player in medical tourism to have a fully-functioning international patient program or department that understands the market they are trying to attract.
In essence the International Department is the face of the hospital when it comes to promoting its medical tourism services. In concert with the International Department the hospital must have several other essential elements in place such as a dynamic team of physicians who are truly committed to the program, a website that can easily be translated into other languages for accessibility to international patients, along with information on your hospital, doctors, procedures and packages.
The International Department must also be able to coordinate a variety of concierge type services such as transportation, recovery facilities and interesting, local tours for patients and companions.
In a nutshell you must deliver the total package to your prospective patients because they become your greatest marketing ally once they return home; word spreads quickly in this industry.