TBY talks to Elisa de Lewis, General Director of Clínica Hospital San Fernando, on meeting international standards, health education, and medical tourism.
What have the hospital’s major milestones been over the last few years?
Clínica Hospital San Fernando was founded in 1949 by my grandfather Dr. Jaime de la Guardia. He was a surgeon who graduated in the US and he wanted to establish a hospital to treat private patients, and physicians to have the right to do so without restrictions. At that time, there was just one hospital in Panama and it was a closed one, meaning not all physicians could hospitalize patients. Dr. de la Guardia united businessmen, physicians, and family together that believed in him and the project, and they started construction in 1947. He started out with around 30 physicians with a few specialties. The hospital opened with just 30 beds and at a cost of $5 per room. I started my career in the hospital in 1976 as an Assistant to the General Director, and throughout the years I have seen an improvement in medical technology, human resources, and IT, but especially the quality of care. We have more than 600 physicians in three office buildings around the hospital. Since 2011, we have been accredited by Joint Commission International (JCI), and our physicians have to fulfil all of JCI’s requirements.
Hospital San Fernando is one of the two Panamanian hospitals that have joined the JCI accreditation system. What is the importance of this recognition?
The JCI requires us to comply with certain security and quality control standards, which it measures using a system of indicators. The most important factors are quality and the security of the patient. For example, you have to identify the patient and match them up with their proposed surgical procedure. It is basically an ISO system for hospitals. We have our reaccreditation due in 2014; it takes place every three years. We decided to get accredited five years ago, and it took us two years to ensure that we were able to comply with all the requirements. You have to fulfil all the requirements to a level of 90%-100%. There are 144 standards that you have to comply with in total, which is not an easy task. Everyone from our Board of Directors, to all of the hospital’s collaborators and employees has to be on board. In 2014, the hospital has to comply with the Fifth Edition, meaning there are more challenges to meet. We were the first ones to gain this recognition locally. Panama has started working on its own accreditation system; however, it is still just on paper. Nothing has been done about it yet.
What role does Hospital San Fernando play in health education?
That is part of our accreditation; we have to comply with patient education requirements. Our values lie with our collaborators, families, and patients. One of the actions we take for the prevention of disease and illness is the vaccination of our employees and their families. We recently completed a campaign with patients’ families promoting the importance of good hand-washing practices. Part of our corporate social responsibility work has a green theme, especially regarding recycling and eliminating levels of mercury. There is also a new Panamanian law regarding security risks for employees, and in terms of compliance, hospitals and clinics are inspected more than any other work place.
What is the importance of medical tourism for the hospital?
For private hospitals, it hasn’t been substantially important, basically because of the lack of personnel and the demand from Panamanians and foreign residents. However, we have been looking into medical tourism, since it can be beneficial, despite being a risky business. Generally, people that go abroad for treatment are those without insurance, and are looking for a cheaper health option. Medical tourism is predominantly in the areas of plastic surgery and odontology, with perhaps also a few orthopedic procedures. Panama has all the qualifications for becoming a potential destination for medical tourism; however, this has to be combined with the right laws.
© The Business Year - May 2015