The State of Medical Tourism

0
958

For people who love to travel, visiting different places and having new experiences bring incomparable excitement. Nobody can stop a globetrotter, whether within the town or a hundred miles away.

However, places one can set foot on have been limited when the pandemic happened. It’s primarily due to travel restrictions, yet you could luckily visit a few countries—one of which is Mexico. First-time visitors might not know the places to visit first, but most tourists consider Cabo San Lucas one of their sought-after destinations.

It’s not simply because of their numerous grand tourist spots and scenic views. Instead, the city is one that tourists quickly access. You could go on a whale watching tour, enjoy the beach, and experience sunset cruising.

At present, over 2 million travelers and cruisers have already visited the place. Indeed, all of them were fascinated by its wonders. But did you know that aside from these popular destinations, many tourists visit the city for having commendable establishments? These include their exceptionally built hotels and hospitals.

Paying a visit to one of their exquisite beachfront hotels will surely leave you awestricken and amazed. Not only do they provide excellent service, but they ensure one truly relishes their vacation with the food and experience they offer. The top five hotels to stay in are One&Only Palmilla, Esperanza, Waldorf Astoria, Montage Los Cabos, and Las Ventanas al Paraíso.

While there are indeed a lot of beautiful things you’ll stumble upon in Los Cabos, some disagreeable activities concerning their hospital services have been reported recently. Apart from leisure tourism, medical tourism has also become one of the main reasons for travel.

This is specifically true for Mexico, mainly because they could offer certain procedures and treatments that can be 90% cheaper, at most, than neighboring countries. For instance, a knee surgery could cost as low as $10,000 when it’s offered in the U.S. for maybe twice or triple its price.

As the number of tourist visits in Los Cabos began to grow, some reports about tourists being victimized by medical fraud have started going around. Many senior citizens have started moving to places like Mexico precisely due to the benefit of a cheaper cost of living. Yet, unlike what one would expect, not everything went well for them. Several of these people have been defrauded by medical swindlers, causing them even more distressing medical issues.

Considering the great history and elegance of the city, it might seem difficult to believe it at first. Yet, the truth about it is gradually being exposed and known to the people by countless stories told by tourist victims.

Medical Tourism and Fraud

There are different reasons why people leave to visit other places and countries—one of them is medical tourism. It can simply be defined as the process of traveling outside your country of residence to receive medical care. Usually, it’s because people are looking for relatively low-cost treatments in other countries.

However, it could also be that the medical services they’re seeking are not available in their place of residence. On average, about a million U.S.-based patients travel to Mexico yearly to look for medical treatment services. The growth in popularity of medical tourism in Mexico has increased exponentially since 2014. Currently, it stands to be an industry earning an estimated $6.75 billion annually.

Mexico’s most popular medical tourism destinations are Mexico City, Tijuana, Cancun, and Puerto Vallarta. These cities, among numerous others, offer the highest standards, including established doctors and hospitals. Notably, those mentioned above will provide unparalleled medical ethics standards equivalent to those in the USA, Canada, or Europe.

Given this data, it’s pretty ironic how occurrences of medical fraud are slowly going rampant in Cabo, Mexico. Although many people can vouch for the excellent quality of doctors and hospitals in the area, it can’t be denied that some actually hire unqualified doctors. It was discovered that some hospitals’ strategies were to employ English-speaking doctors, nurses, and administrators without considering their credentials.

The only requirement they primarily focus on is the applicant’s ability to speak English fluently. Hence, resulting in the hiring of inexperienced and unsuitable doctors and nurses. Some are not even knowledgeable about medical ethics and proper standards and procedures in Mexico. However, most of these doctors still get promoted even without the necessary skills—enabling them to live comfortably while earning big.

For tourists, this infuriating reality is not known. They only know how excellent and flawless medical services are in hospitals in Cabo, Mexico—which isn’t the case already. In actuality, some doctors in Mexican hospitals have been slowly building on a fraudulent scheme that targets city tourists.

A local news outlet, Tribuna de Los Cabos, released an article and mentioned that hospitals work with ambulance drivers to extort large amounts of money from tourist patients. It happens when the ambulances bring sick tourists to the most expensive hospital in the city. Later on, these patients are left with no choice but to pay a large sum for that hospital’s medical services. The drivers receive kickbacks from all the successful scams they pull off.

Another story also features a family of a successful accountant and hotel owner near East Cape who got preyed on by medical swindlers. His family has lived in Los Cabos for about 30 years and even gave birth to 3 kids there. Last January 2021, he, his wife, and three daughters tested positive against Covid-19.

Afterward, he was put in a bubble and stayed in a San Jose del Cabo hospital, separating him from his wife and kids. The medical expenses shouldn’t have been huge, yet the hospital was demanding from the wife a sum of 14,000,000 MX pesos—equivalent to almost $700,000.

This wasn’t really the actual cost of the bills. Presumably, these fraudulent doctors were targeting big-time locals, and it just so happens that they think he was one. Although on the brink of death, he managed to negotiate with the hospital not to demand a massive amount of money from his family. For him, this will only be what’s left for his kids’ future.

Stories like this have already been going around the internet. Some were posted a year ago, yet you can also find more recent ones that just happened to be published months ago. These hospital frauds haven’t been thoroughly investigated in Cabo, Mexico, yet the appearance of similar swindling stories online proves that it really happens.

As there have been no clearly established global standards for medical care, countries like Mexico limit one’s right to sue. The rewards aren’t commensurate with the damages caused even when winning a case. For instance, a family who lost a baby due to medical malpractice only received $10,000 for the charges they pressed.

There may be more victims than this as well. One of the online stories stated that a man was simply buying champagne at some store but was drugged and brought to a particular hospital (name not mentioned). There, they demanded a huge amount of money for his treatment.

During the fourth quarter of 2021, countless complaints and reports have reached the U.S. Consulate, which then issued an alert against all hospitals in Cabo, Mexico. Following the meeting between the U.S. Consulate and Cabo mayor, a solution to address the problem was formed.

To protect the tourists from being victimized by medical fraud, they found it best to create information centers at the Los Cabos International Airport. With its installation, they hoped to primarily enlighten them about the possible occurrences of fraud in case they fall ill and be brought to a hospital.

Indeed, they’re a lot helpful in preventing more deceitful medical schemes. However, several lives of people who’ve fallen for their trap have already been ruined—and there’s, unfortunately, no way to bring them back to normal. This is especially true for the Romans and Loperena family, a victim of medical fraud in Los Cabos, Mexico.

Romans & Loperena Family: A Medical Fraud Victim

Becoming a victim of medical fraud in Cabo, Mexico, could be pretty ironic for the Romans Loperena family. Seth Romans, the husband from the family, has lived in Los Cabos for 20 years and the wife initially came from mainland Mexico. As a couple married for 15 years already, they’re considered “locals” living in the state. They’ve owned and run businesses there and worked previously for different marketing and public relations companies for 20 years.

Given this, you could say that they’re probably familiar with the city activities already. Yet, seeing the turn of events indicates that they’re oblivious of the rampant medical fraud cases. It all started when the husband from the family had a persistent back problem and went to visit a doctor in Los Cabos, Mexico. Before that, he already had an MRI in January, revealing a ruptured hernia in the L5-S1 part of his spinal column.

According to him, the hospital is known for its good services, so he’s confident that doctors are skilled and qualified. Thus, he didn’t hesitate to receive treatment from that hospital even when the doctor assigned to him wasn’t one he knew of. Word of mouth and recommendations are huge in the area, so it’s pretty common for them to know great doctors there.

Although this was the case, they still went with the doctor in the hospital’s directory as their neurosurgeon. Via email and Zoom calls, the doctor assigned to him said he was from Guadalajara and clearly expressed that he is a “surgeon expert,” particularly surgeries concerning removing a ruptured hernia in the lower back. In addition, he even emphasized that he does one spine surgery per week and surgeries daily at the hospital.

Thus, he truly got the couple’s trust that the surgeries he performs have a 100% guarantee of a successful outcome. He offered them a package that enables them to avail themselves of a 10% discount if the hospital bill is paid entirely through bank transfer. It even included a hotel room adjacent to the hospital. Afterward, the husband transferred $8,500 upfront and spent another $1,000 during the first day of their stay.

When the surgery was finished, the doctor told the couple that it went perfectly. He claimed that the discectomy and removal of the ruptured hernia were successful. However, the family was shocked because the patient could not walk the day after. It turns out the doctor’s credentials were actually questionable and untrue. When he presented the surgery prognostic to be “good for life, full functionality,” that guarantee wasn’t attained either.

According to all neurosurgeons, the type of surgery performed on him should have alleviated the pain immediately if done correctly. The medical indications even explicitly mentioned that the patient will be “walking in 3 days,” “back to normal life in 15 days,” and “fully recovered in 30 days.”

Sad to say, but the husband—to this date—still hasn’t recovered yet. Since his surgery last February 4, 2021, he has experienced numerous health issues. The most miserable thing about it was even when he paid a huge sum for the surgery; it was revealed that the ruptured hernia wasn’t successfully removed and had already grown bigger.

Thus, it would be more accurate to claim that the quack doctor actually just “manipulated” the area, earned deceitfully, and called it a day. It’s as if he just experimented on him without genuinely knowing about the proper treatment to do. Currently, Seth lives in constant pain and may be facing a lifelong disability, forbidding him from coming to work. He can’t go outside the house 95% of the time, except when meeting with doctors.

With the pain of walking or standing, he could only be in a wheelchair—now for a month already. Yet, sitting there a whole day also causes him to feel great suffering.

If this continues, they might eventually spend all the money they saved up and be left with nothing. Moreover, recent findings have revealed that Romans had developed more health issues stemming from surgical malpractice back then. In rectifying the damage done to the area by the doctor’s surgical manipulation in Los Cabos, reconstructive fusion surgery is now required. The cost of this surgery, even in Mexico City, is double or triple the original amount paid to the doctor in Cabo.

Within only a few months maximum, the permanent damage to his health condition could be irreversible. For the husband’s recovery, the family needs another private surgery, wherein the costs amount to approximately $30,000. During the last ten months, covering medical expenses one after another has left them with a massive amount of debt.

This is only a fraction of the unbearable effects of the doctor’s malpractice on his family. Their kids also suffered a lot emotionally—and it was truly devastating. From the moment he left the hospital, all the damages were compounded.

Romans said, “There is no way that I can put a monetary value on my son’s fear of touching me for months.” His son says, “I’ll hurt you if I hug you.” They even had to pull their children out of school this coming March and April so they could focus on his health, which was the complete opposite of their belief system.

There are simply no words to express the emotional pain they suffer as parents. Expressing how children have suffered, what they had to bear witness to with their father, and how their lives have disintegrated are all difficult to mend.

They even had to sell off their kids’ things to buy medications or pay for medical exams. On numerous occasions, they’ve also had heartbreaking discussions with their 13-year old daughter about having to take care of her younger brother with special needs, in case they had to send both of them to live with their grandparents in mainland Mexico.

Right now, Eduardo Gurgo Solice, the President of the Bar Association for the state of Baja California Sur, is representing the family as their lawyer. He is also a lead liaison for the Italian Embassy, Four Seasons in Mexico, and more. Upon understanding their case, he stepped in to help the family by guiding them through the legal processes and lawsuits.

He emphasized that the negligence done to Romans is indeed a fraud, inducing him to file a lawsuit against the doctor’s malpractice and negligence. For him, this fraudulent activity could be classified as Human Rights abuse and should be punished accordingly.

However, in the family’s process of retrieving the hospital document needed for the lawsuit, things went a bit sideways. The hospital documentation appears correct and credible, yet they discovered that it wasn’t the case. The document was just backed up by the personal opinion of the medical oversight doctor in COCAMBCS, protecting both the hospital’s reputation and the truth about what happened.

When Romans and his wife first went to pick up the document, this was stated: “We couldn’t continue with the process because the doctor didn’t answer in writing or appear in person.” Meaning to say, whatever was written in the document they were trying to retrieve was just pure falsification. It does not tell the patient was intubated or anything before or after.

Instead, it emphasized that he could already leave the hospital, having rated a 5/5 for his condition after the surgery. Obviously, that wasn’t true.

“I have a picture of me in a wheelchair because I literally could not walk to leave the hospital or the next day. I should have been working in 3 days, fully recovered in 15 days, as per the documentation and what we were told before the surgery.” – Seth Romans.

As a simple help, Biotoxin Foundation also started a fundraising program to help them gather the capital they need for the surgery. If you wish to donate and know more about their medical, family, and legal needs, you can visit this link.