SMC: Cuba’s Medical Tourism Business – it’s Past, Present and Future

Servicios-Medicos-CubanosAlain Leclerc, Président of Services Santé International and Dr. Héctor of Servicios Medicos Cubanos (SMC) in the Montreal office.

Dr. Osvaldo Héctor of Servicios Medicos Cubanos (SMC) discusses Cuba’s medical tourism business

Dr. Osvaldo Héctor Ardisana from Servicios Medicos Cubanos (SMC) is in Montreal working with Services Santé International, a medical tourism company with offices in Montreal, Trois-Rivières and Québec.  We caught up with him in the Montreal office where we got a chance to ask about SMC and Cuba’s medical tourism.

An Integral Medicine Specialist, Dr. Héctor works within the International Academic and Medical Services division responsible for the markets of Canada and the English-French speaking Caribbean countries.  Dr. Hector has worked for the company since 1997.

SMC, founded in 1987, is devoted to offering medical alternatives to foreign patients looking for medical care in Cuba.  The Company was formerly known as Servimed.  In 2011, it merged with Servicios Medicos Cubanos (SMC) which is the current name of the company.

SMC offers health services to patients coming from abroad for medical reasons but also works with Cuban doctors who serve overseas in more than 80 nations, foreign students in medical careers, pharmaceutical products as well as other services addressing healthcare and well being.

Cuba Business Report:  When did Cuba first begin offering medical care to tourists at its hospitals and clinics?

Medical care for Cuban citizens is universal and free in every medical institution. Foreign residents in Cuba during the 1970’s and 80’s, most of them refugees from Latin American countries, received these services during their stay in Cuba and enjoyed the quality of the treatments.  In the 90’s, some returned back to their homelands where unfortunately not always found the same. When they were in need of qualified medical services and the only alternatives were the United States or Europe in their minds, they thought why not to come to Cuba?

In the 1960s and 70s, Cuba did not charge foreigners for medical care.  It was at the end of the 80’s (1987) when Cuba began charging for medical services through its company Servimed.  Cuba was not able to continue providing free medical care to everyone because of the internal economic situation during the 1990’s.

On the other hand, due to the opening to international tourism in the 90’s, thousands of foreign visitors (mainly Canadian and European) went to the Island as tourists and eventually needed some medical care for unexpected conditions. They realized that the Cuban health system had something to offer not just for emergencies but also for some diseases or conditions that were treated in Cuba with high success rates using techniques and treatments sometimes not available in their own countries. So, health tourism was born as an answer to the international request of these services.

Cuba Business Report:  How can a potential patient know that he/she is dealing with a legitimate company offering medical tourism services to Cuba?

Dr. Osvaldo Héctor:

Nowadays, SMC has contracts with about 150 international companies or agencies in 30 countries. All these companies presented their legal documents to the Cuban embassies or consulates where they are officially legalized.  Every year there’s a procedure of validation and update of services, programs, conciliation, etc.

On the other hand, SMC is open to new opportunities of commercial relationship with universities, medical institutions, insurance companies and any kind of private or public healthcare providers to fulfill health requests in Cuba or abroad.

In Canada there are several companies with valid agreements with SMC, all of them in Ontario and Quebec for the moment. The pioneer of these companies is Services Santé International in Quebec City, which celebrated this year its 10th anniversary of successful collaboration with SMC.

Cuba Business Report:  What are the most common procedures patients are traveling to Cuba for?

Dr. Osvaldo Héctor:

It depends on the region or country where the patient comes from. Canadians demand treatments for cancer using a monoclonal antibodies vaccine which is a state of the art product of Cuban Biotechnology Industry which has high rates of success in lung cancer.

They also request treatment for orthopedic surgeries (lumbar spine, hip replacement, knee prosthesis) due to the waiting list of some of these treatments; ophthalmology (treatment to stop the progression of symptoms of retinitis pigmentosa using a Cuban method); skin conditions as Vitiligo and Psoriasis (also using Cuban unique products obtained from placental tissues) treatments to heal diabetic foot ulcers using Heberprot P (another Cuban Biotechnology product) and cosmetic surgery with good standards, high quality and excellent pricing. Dental care is also much appreciated.

People from other countries have different priorities but these are the most frequent requested.

Cuba Business Report: Currently what region/country sends the most patients seeking medical services to Cuba?

Dr. Osvaldo Héctor:

At the beginning there were mostly Latin American patients due to the reasons explained above. Also, the geographic and cultural bonds were additional reasons to encourage patients from Argentina, Mexico, Chile, Peru, etc, to visit Cuba.

African countries are equally an important source of patients because of the historical links between this continent and Cuba, as well as the lack of basic health programs in most of these countries. A large number of African students that went to Cuba are now engineers, doctors, professionals in their own countries but kept the remembrance of those days in the island.  They don’t hesitate to recommend their comrades to go to Cuba to be healed if necessary.

At last, but not at least, people from Canada and Europe found in Cuba solution for medical issues that are not available there, not covered by the insurance programs, very expensive in the private care or unfortunately delayed due to a long waiting list.  Canada is in the top three countries sending patients to Cuba since 2010.

Cuba Business Report:  What is the future direction for SMC Salud – how is the company going to be marketing its services to the world?

Dr. Osvaldo Héctor:

SMC has some principles that will remain invariable:  the respect for the patient and relatives, the priority of medical subjects over commercial or lucrative.  We are not competitive but cooperative with the medical institutions of each country.

We do not offer medical services to foreign citizens which are not 100% guaranteed previously for Cuban population.

SMC incorporates innovations and new techniques-equipment coming from the most advanced sources of knowledge worldwide, but always place the human being over everything else.  We are offering personalized care focused on prevention and enhancing the quality of life.

The list of agencies and countries signing contracts with SMC grows each day.  The Middle East, Asia, East Europe are new interest areas and, of course, U.S. patients are, no doubt among the challenges that SMC has to face in the current scenario.

Learn more about the services offered by Services Santé International by visiting the website.

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