A personal touch may not have meant much to Marcy Heistand at first, until the harsh realities of a tumor somewhere between her lungs and chest slapped her hard in the stomach. For sure she felt the uneasiness of her symptoms – shortness of breath, cough, and fatigue – but she wanted assurance in a decision only she and her family could make.
“Something was going wrong, and it was the only place I knew,” said Heistand, who boarded a plane for a the one-hour flight from her home in the Virgin Islands to Puerto Rico, where she underwent a thymectomy procedure through the Metro Pavia Health System. “I don’t know if I could have stayed in St. Croix and had the surgery done. Otherwise, I might have had to travel to the (United) States.”
Puerto Rico is banking that more Caribbean patients like Heistand — and those from larger markets in the mainland United States and elsewhere — will feel right at home in Puerto Rico and make the island their destination of choice for medical tourism.
Hospital Pavia Santurce, part of the largest hospital network on the island, took great strides earlier this year to lay out the welcome mat for international patients when executive, financial and administrative staff including customer service professionals completed training and certification processes offered by the Medical Tourism Association®.
Alberto Bacó Bagué, Puerto Rico Secretary of Economic Development and Commerce, said International Patient Services Certification® positions the island to compete for international patients on a global scale.
“We are convinced that our island will stand out in the area of certification due to the high measures taken by our medical professionals, our hospital infrastructure and healthcare in general,” said Bacó.“This significant step forward will strengthen our efforts to make medical tourism a real axis of economic development for the island,” he said.
Island of Opportunity
Metro Pavia Health System, Ashford Presbyterian Community Hospital, and HIMA Health were among the healthcare affiliations that participated in the first round of training that, when finished, would certify hospitals and ancillary healthcare services providers to offer services to foreign patients.
Francisco G. Bonet, Executive Director for the Puerto Rico Medical Tourism Corporation, said certification validates that a healthcare provider can not only provide quality care for international patients, but build valuable relationships with insurance companies and purchasers of health services that execute the process, as well.
The Puerto Rico Medical Tourism Corporation, an arm of the commonwealth’s tourism structure, is in the midst of an aggressive campaign to market the island’s healthcare services to international patients. In the next years, those efforts are hoped to create some 3,000 jobs and inject $300 million into the island’s economy.
Private sector investors and entrepreneurs have been jumping on board by participating in online educational workshops that identify healthcare and tourism services in Puerto Rico and the public officials who want to partner with them to revitalize the Caribbean island into a hub for medical tourism.
Renée-Marie Stephano, president of the Medical Tourism Association®, said beyond medical certification, 24 hotels and 100 supporting industry professionals from related hospitality and travel sectors participated in health tourism training on the island.
She said the most recent endeavor that concluded in San Juan provided training for the Condado Plaza Hilton and Courtyard Marriott Miramar that will help to improve hotel operations and the management of medical tourism patient accommodations.
“Just because a patient no longer needs hospital care, they may still require special medical attention until they are able to travel home,” said Stephano. “As more healthcare consumers and their families travel for procedures abroad, it becomes equally important that hotels keep pace and create safe, comfortable environments where patients can manage their own care and, at the same time, save on costs that are traditionally associated with longer-than-needed hospital stays.”
Home Away from Home
Stephano said the Medical Tourism Association® is stressing the importance of maintaining top-rate service through training and certification to prospective Puerto Rico hospitality and healthcare providers.
She understands that despite the financial misfortunes facing Puerto Rico due to its high government debt levels, healthcare represents not only 20 percent of Puerto Rico’s economy, but a safe harbor for nearby international patients like Marcy Heistand, who are desperate for care.
Heistand, a vice president at Seaborne Airlines, was happy to know her doctors in Puerto Rico were considering the highest precautions before they decided to remove the tumor from her thymus gland.
Because of her employment, she was certainly familiar with flying back and forth to Puerto Rico, but never before for surgery. The last thing she needed was an added headache. The best thing she got might have been a patient experience beyond her expectations.
“Excellent medical services were my first priority,” said Heistand, who is back at work, breathing easily again at home with her husband and two children. “However, because Pavia’s staff took the time to talk about my needs, assist me with flights and transportation, coordinate appointments and still bring me a comforting coffee or magazine, they added value to their product. I felt like family. I knew I was in good hands.”