Two months ago, Health City Cayman Islands accepted its first patients from a self-insurance pool in the United States, IndUShealth, an administrator for medical tourism.
Rajesh Rao, CEO of IndUShealth, said that although he most often sends patients seeking lower-cost care in the Caribbean to Costa Rica, these two patients wanted to come to Cayman for their surgery. Now that Health City has received accreditation from the Joint Commission International, among the leading accrediting bodies worldwide, Rao said, “We’re bullish on using it.”
That will come as good news to Health City. At a press conference last month announcing the accreditation, hospital spokesman Shomari Scott said self-insured companies in the United States are the first big target market for Health City. Big companies can opt to self-insure, which typically means setting up a trust for employees and paying directly for medical care instead of buying insurance at a fixed rate per employee.
According to Rao’s estimates, the self-insured market is about 70 million people.
The accreditation in May from JCI opens up the East End hospital to its target markets in North America. The certification means that the hospital meets high standards of care for potential medical tourists from the U.S. and elsewhere.
The JCI team came to Cayman for a week in April to review all aspects of Health City’s operation, including operating room sanitization procedures, medical ethics policy, and the supply chain for medical supplies.
At the press conference, the hospital said it had already seen more than 4,000 patients. A spokeswoman later said that about 10 percent of the hospital’s surgical procedures have been on patients from the U.S.
Rao said, based on his experience, “Cayman is seen in a very favorable light.” He said Cayman’s reputation as a first-class tourist destination is a major selling point. He came to the island in December and January to check out Health City and was happy with what he saw.
However, Rao noted one perception problem from the United States, where many people believe Cayman is very expensive compared to its regional neighbors. This perception, he said, might make it difficult for people to understand how the care at Health City is substantially less expensive than in the U.S.
John Doyle, a board member at the hospital and vice president for Health City partner Ascension Health, based in the U.S., said the accreditation is “another in many milestones,” but noted that Health City “does have to prove itself” to the international community.
Another issue, noted by Josef Woodman, CEO of Patients Beyond Borders, a company that helps people in the U.S. go abroad for medical care, is that traveling for care “is newer to the American patient.” People will have to get used to the idea that they can go overseas and receive world-class medical care for substantially lower costs, he said.
“People don’t get it in the U.S.,” he said, a perception that will be a major challenge for Health City.
Woodman has not visited Health City, but he has met its founder Dr. Devi Shetty several times at conferences, and he is optimistic about the venture.
“I have never visited a JCI hospital that was not at or over capacity,” he said.
But those patients, he added, probably are not all from the U.S. There are plenty of patients in the Caribbean and Central America who may think Cayman is the best place to get a knee replacement or chemotherapy to treat cancer and who recognize that affordable care is available.
Each small nation in the Caribbean region has its own healthcare system, its own standards and laws, and places like Miami and Cartagena have become the medical centers for the Caribbean, Woodman said. While healthcare in the U.S. “is completely overpriced.” he said, care in Cartagena is much more affordable, but costs are increasing.
With the right marketing, he said, “There’s no way that in the long run [medical tourism] won’t work.”
Health City officials are confidant in their model of care and the “seal of approval” it has received from JCI.
Seeing the accreditation, potential patients can be comfortable with the overall operations at the hospital, said Health City’s head of medical services Dr. Chandy Abraham.
“This accreditation is essentially a confirmation of best practice, and we will continually strive to achieve the highest standards,” he said while announcing the accreditation last month.