Vein Centers of Jamaica carves niche in medical tourism
...eyes Caribbean expansionFriday, December 03, 2021
BY JOSIMAR SCOTT
With increasing referrals for vascular surgery coming from the British Virgin Islands (BVI), Cayman Islands, and Turks and Caicos Islands, Vein Centers of Jamaica has been creating a space for itself in the medical tourism industry and is now eyeing expansion within the Caribbean.
Vein Centers of Jamaica was founded in 2012 by American vascular surgeon Dr Bart Muhs and the Jamaican husband and wife team of Dr Hilary Brown and Javette Nixon. According to Nixon, it “started with a conversation in a car driving from Kingston to Portland”.
Both Muhs and Brown perform “minimally invasive” surgical procedures on varicose veins, spider veins, and other venous diseases. The medical operation has two locations in Jamaica — one on Lady Musgrave Road in St Andrew and the other at the Sagicor Montego Bay Commercial Centre in St James.
“We've grown to be the largest provider of vascular surgery in the whole Caribbean,” Muhs, who visits the island at least once a month to perform surgeries, told the Jamaica Observer in a recent interview.
“We were in the office yesterday and we have patients from BVI, Cayman Islands, Turks and Caicos and, of course, Jamaica,” he continued, adding that patients also come from cruise ships.
Muhs revealed that Vein Centers currently has a contract with the Turks and Caicos Government to carry out surgeries on a referral basis. At the same time, the company is currently negotiating with other governments in the region, in particular The Bahamas, while trying to identify other partners with whom they can start operations those territories.
Although the directors of Vein Centers of Jamaica have looked at expanding to the Eastern Caribbean, especially Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago, they have yet to begin their due diligence, looking at the regulations and legislations to start operations there.
“Whether we go and open a physical location, those are business-strategic decisions. But there are other things that can be done from a marketing standpoint, from a partnership-relationship standpoint, to get more people to Vein Centers from the Caribbean islands and those are the kind of things we're pursuing at the moment,” he explained.
Notwithstanding the contribution of referrals from other countries to Vein Centers' growth, Muhs admits that foreigners' perception of Jamaica can also be a challenge.
“It's very niche right now. There are a lot of opportunities in Jamaica but people are generally worried about coming to Jamaica for medical tourism because they are worried about the infrastructure, crime and if there are complications,” he told Caribbean Business Report.
Nixon added that while there are a lot of intra-regional medical services, such as Jamaicans travelling to Cuba for surgery, the cost of intra-regional travel is a barrier for some patients in the region to access the services they require.
Whereas the low number of vascular surgeons in Jamaica and across the Caribbean has redounded to the growth of Vein Centers, Muhs pointed to the quality of service patients can expect when they schedule an appointment at one of its offices.
“People are used to going to the doctor and sitting and waiting for two hours. We provide a standard… so that they don't have to wait and [we] deliver a quality product and good outcome. It's not that hard,” the surgeon said.
On its website, Vein Centers guarantees that surgeries are conducted with “minimal downtime” and that “most patients are back to work and enjoying life the very next day”.
Nixon also shared that people are usually astounded at the quality of the company's facilities.
“Every time somebody comes into Vein Centers, they're like 'Wow! I didn't realise that this is in Jamaica.”
When Caribbean Business Report asked Muhs about the other opportunities he has identified in Jamaica's medical tourism space, he indicated his interest in assisted living.
“So we've purchased 44 acres in Hanover that overlooks the sea. There's no real assisted living here in Jamaica at high quality — daily food a la carte, cleaning and medical care,” he said.
To this end, he is considering the construction of a facility in that parish for retirees in the Jamaican Diaspora. Muhs proposes that the service can be subsidised by Medicare or any other international insurance scheme. Given that Jamaica is an English-speaking country, he also believes this could be a value proposition for American to retire at such a facility.
“It's still early though,” Muhs said.