Latin America’s top healthcare system

Colombia’s excellent healthcare system has been applauded by the World Health Organization and its affordable prices are luring in patients from abroad. When it comes to health systems, Colombia is a world leader, even surpassing more developed countries like the U.S., Switzerland, Canada, and Germany, according to the WHO’s World Health Report.
The country has made significant progress in terms of healthcare coverage, reaching approximately 42 million Colombians to date.  “There are important strengths in Colombia in the health sector, not just in the field of aesthetics, but also in the area of highly complex systems,” says Dr. Sergio Rada, director of Rada Clinic. “The quality of our physicians and the warmth of the team with whom they work have increased international interest to come to have surgery in Colombia.”

Colombia is not only known for its tradition of cosmetic surgery, but it also has the best healthcare system in Latin America, offering a range of complex health services. Many industry leaders believe that what has helped the current Colombian system become so successful is the constitutional nature of healthcare in Colombia.

CafeSalud Prepaid Medicine contributes to the welfare of Colombian families through a broad range of health services. Its services and opportunities supplement basic social security schemes in the country and have helped make the national system more successful. “In Colombia, the ‘pocket money’ that citizens spend outside the health system is 7%, unlike other countries in the region that are close to 50%,” says Jairo Enrique Arboleda, president of Cafesalud. “This positions Colombia as the most efficient on the continent in this regard.”

Despite the current success of the country’s healthcare, its goal is to further improve the quality and equity of access, while aspiring to provide universal coverage in the future.

Dr. Julio Cesar Castellanos, general director of Hospital Universitario San Ignacio, aims to provide the freedom of choice for medical clients and to set up quality assurance indicators in all hospitals. “The first key element in quality is human attention, to listen to the patient,” Mr. Castellanos says. “For this, all systems have been established to hear the user, meet the user, receive complaints, suggestions, etc.”

o improve patient management in terms of diagnosis, Mr. Castellanos supports the generation of a network service provider or other entity to improve quality and efficiency of health services. He aims to take on the challenge of improving service networks so that each entity serves in its strengths in the fastest way possible to avoid administrative delays for the patient.

The Hospital Universitario San Ignacio has an advantage in which it is a non-profit entity and receives numerous donations. The hospital administration has decided to invest all donations into technological development, making service faster, more efficient, and more beneficial for the patient.

Even though Latin America is becoming an emerging interest for developed countries like the United States, Norway, or Austria, Mr. Castellanos warns that developing countries must be very careful about investing in technology to avoid becoming an exporter of net dollars. “One sees a growing interest in Latin America, and though this is currently the era of Asia, Latin America must be prepared to become the next emerging economy,” says Mr. Castellanos. “Therefore the responsibility of leaders in this country is to prepare for the change.”

It is expected that an average of six to seven million Americans will leave the country in 2011 for medical treatment and about 23 million by 2017. Colombia is located strategically close to the U.S. and many major Latin American capitals, as it is only a three hour flight from Miami, and under six hours from New York, Houston, Washington, Sao Paulo, Mexico and Buenos Aires. This allows for many foreigners to take advantage of high quality treatment close to home; however there is yet much to improve in the area of exporting health services, as the economy rankings still do not indicate that Colombia is a first choice destination.

“We have problems communicating with the world, but with President Santos I think we will improve more,” Mr. Castellanos says.

Nonetheless, he proposes improved communication to better gauge the patients’ needs in the future. In the coming year, the hospital will launch a teleconference system through broadband to build an open dialogue which allows the hospital staff to learn more about prospective patients.

To further aid in communication, Colombian hospitals are working to improve qualities beyond medical knowledge in order to treat foreign patients. Language skills and personalized treatment are areas doctors are specially trained in. “We have a group called SIPE [International Services and Special Plans] that is fully bilingual,” Mr. Castellanos says.

In Colombia hospitals like Hospital Universitario San Ignacio take a patient-based approach and prioritize human care above all. “In general, we have better quality and warmth than in many other countries due to the characteristics of Colombia, as we are friendly, warm, close to people, and affectionate,” claims the hospital’s general director. In Colombia, one is sure to find quality patient care that is unique to other countries, with standards that have measured up to the quality of more developed nations. “Come to Colombia to be healthy,” he says. “Be surprised, as we saw in all the patients we treated. People are pleasantly surprised.”

Gemma Gutierrez, Alvaro Buenaventura, Carlos Rodriguez-Villa, Irama Vega, Alberto Mariscal, and Saturnino Izquierdo