HEALTH OF THE NATION

Jamaica 2018 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Konrad Kirlew, CEO of GWest Centre, on the vision behind the establishment of GWest, providing quality care and services, and its expansion plans.

Konrad Kirlew
BIOGRAPHY
Konrad Kirlew was born in Jamaica. He attended college at the University of Florida and medical school at Stanford University. He trained as a radiologist at UCLA and worked as a board-certified radiologist in Florida before returning to Jamaica in 1998. He is the Managing Director of GWest Corporation and several Jamaican medical imaging companies.

What did the launch of GWest bring to Jamaica?

The idea behind GWest is to create a modern medical environment, which allows my colleagues and I to practice medicine in Montego Bay similar to the way I was trained in the US. We needed to create a medical environment that was modern, efficient, and provided a high quality of service. Hospiten is here, so we are not the only players in the market. There are similarities; however, there are also some major differences. For example, Hospiten is perhaps more interested in tourists than the local market, whereas the local market is our primary market. People coming to work and live in Jamaica usually have three questions. They want to know about the crime rate, the education system, and the availability of healthcare. There are many Jamaicans in North America and the UK, who are retiring or thinking of coming back to live. Having a place like this gives them a level of comfort and reassurance that they will receive quality care. In addition to taking care of the local market, it is also important to take care of the Jamaican diaspora. Thirdly, we want to eventually do more medical tourism.

What is your evaluation of the health of the population and the medical services that they receive?

Basic healthcare is reasonable, and the quality of personnel is high, as there is an intelligent population. What we most lack is financial resources. Therefore, much of the equipment in our public hospitals is older and not maintained well. Our diet is still relatively healthy; people still exercise and walk. It will be interesting to see in 25 years how this will change. We see more obese people now than we did 25 years ago. People drink and smoke; still, these are not huge societal problems. The basics are taken care of; however, at the moment the public healthcare system is stretched thin and a great deal of the care ends up being done privately. This benefits the private sector to some degree because, in a place like Canada or elsewhere, things will be done by the public system because it has those resources.

Do you address international and local customers differently?

We give the same kind of care to all. However, we have some ideas on how to attract international clients. For example, because labor is cheaper here, an operation such as a joint replacement may cost 30-40% less than in Florida. Therefore, it is possible to attract people who need that surgery and can get a vacation at the same time. It is also possible to attract international doctors to do the surgeries and have some time to relax afterwards. GWest operates four core facilities. There is an urgent care center, which opened in November 2017. Our lab opened in January 2018. In late 2018, we will open an ambulatory surgery center, with two large operating rooms and two small rooms, and a small overnight in-patient facility of eight beds. We do not seek to be a fully-fledged hospital; our main emphasis is on outpatient care. We are considering plans to open similar centers in other parts of Jamaica, where there is nothing quite like this with a wide range of services. There will be many practitioners, surgeons, and specialists using our facilities such as the surgery center and the lab.

What are your priorities for the coming year?

There are several priorities. One is to complete the facility and get the whole group of services completely integrated and running smoothly. We are dealing with people, and getting the right team in place, training, and so on takes time. This first year is completing the process of getting it right. Then, we ramp up the marketing, develop our client base and partnerships. This includes maybe operating in other geographical locations.