San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Hospital Aims to Tap Medical Tourism Market

MANAGUA – Hoping to spin their local reputation into an international market niche, Managua’s Hospital Metropolitano Vivian Pellas, the country’s first private hospital, is seeking to tap into one of Central America’s fastest-growing tourism markets: medical tourism.

The hospital, which opened in 2005 and is in the final process of being accredited in the United States by the Joint Commission International, has already become the hospital of reference among Nicaragua’s wellheeled society and foreign expats living here, including those working for diplomatic and international missions. The medical services are billed as world-class, and the prices are generally affordable for those in the expat community.

According to the hospital’s medical logs, surgeons at Vivian Pellas treat an average of a dozen-plus foreign patients each month, a growing number of whom are going in for elective or non-emergency surgical procedures.

Many of those elective procedures, according to hospital spokeswoman Vania Soza, are orthopedic or plastic surgery.

In that sense, she says, “medical tourism here has already started on its own.”

Another important market for Vivian Pellas is Nicaraguans living in the United States who send medical remittances to family members in Nicaragua for medical procedures at the hospital.

Vivian Pellas has even set up an office and bank account in Miami, Florida, allowing people to pay directly for medical procedures for family members or themselves.

Now, as the hospital launches a $25 million expansion that will add 65 new doctors’ offices and medical services, Vivian Pellas hopes to expand its client base as well by marketing itself as a near-shore medical tourism option for foreigners, particularly those in the United States.

The idea is to compete with neighboring and established markets in Costa Rica and Panama, by offering comparable services at discounted prices.

Working with local hotels, transportation services, translators and tour operators, Hospital Metropolitano Vivian Pellas has created an all-inclusive network to provide clients with an experience that’s designed to be as seamless as possible.

Clients are picked up at the airport, driven to and from their hotel and hospital, and have a translator assigned to them to help them through the medical consultation, procedure and recovery.

For operations that need less recovery time, the client will then be offered additional tourism or sightseeing options in Nicaragua, such as a visit to Granada or San Juan del Sur.

For example, Soza says, in the case of a breast-augmentation operation, after five days of recovery the client could head down to San Juan del Sur to try out the new bikini.

Soza said that medical tourism packages could also be arranged for people living incountry, such as employees for nongovernmental organizations who work in parts of Nicaragua that are more far flung and would require a package deal to stay in Managua for several days.

The advantages to medical tourism in Nicaragua are both in cost and time. According to the hospital’s calculations, patients from the United States would save a minimum of 20 percent in medical costs and untold weeks in waiting time for elective surgery, and that’s with airfare and hotel included.

For example, breast implants in the United, States generally range from $5,000-$10,000, whereas at Vivian Pellas the procedure costs $2,000.

The biggest savings, however, would be on orthopedic surgery, which can cost $50,000-$80,000 in the United States, and only costs $8,000 with the full hotel package in Nicaragua.

Other types of procedures the hospital is promoting for the medical tourism market are: gynecological surgery, eye surgery, aesthetic plastic surgery and complete medical exams.

As Nicaragua continues to gain a reputation as an attractive near-shore destination for U.S. outsourcing, Vivian Pellas hopes that trend will carry over to the outsourcing of medical care as well. After all, industry boosters say, why go to Thailand or India when you can come to Nicaragua? Managua ain’t Boston, but it sure beats Calcutta.

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