Spotlight Interview: Kimberly Ampie, Operations Manager & Patient Coordinator, Medical Tours Costa Rica

About Kimberly Ampie

Kim Ampie joins the Medical Tours Costa Rica team in early 2015 with an extensive background in customer service, hospitality and marketing positions focused primarily on the tourism market and hotel concierge. Prior to her arrival at Medical Tours Costa Rica, Kim was also the administrator of a Recovery Center for medical tourism patients. Her years of experience in tourism, hospitality and high-level customer service have been much of the success she has had as she grows in her role as Supervisor and Coordinator of Medical Tourism Patients. Her transition to case management responsibilities and direct assistance to patients traveling from the United States and Canada has been more than positive. Thus, creating a lasting relationship between the company Medical Tours and the self-insured companies that year after year continue to send their employees to receive medical care outside their country of origin. Ms. Ampie currently helps lead the team of patient coordinators who coordinates all services for patients who come from three large companies in the US for surgeries from orthopedics, neurosurgeries, bariatric surgeries and many others including dental treatments. Her team takes care of every detail from itineraries, medical reports, budgets, packages, the medical group, hotel recovery program that includes nursing and specialized diets. Kim also regularly travels to visit self-insured companies in the US to track past patients and prepare future patients and also to improve the logistics, marketing and details of our program with the nurses and administrators in each company.

Her extensive experience and skills managing international patients, have opened the door for her to work as a trainer for the Medical Tourism Association’s International Patient Services Training (CMTP) Certified Medical Tourism Professional course.

About Medical Tours Costa Rica

Medical Tours Costa Rica has helped thousands of patients and is the innovator in medical travel to Costa Rica. Brad and Bill Cook are visionaries that saw the writing on the wall while running the International insurance office for Costa Rica’s busiest and most respected hospital, Clinica Biblica. No firm is more interconnected to the pulse of the medical community than Medical Tours Costa Rica.

Medical Tours Costa Rica is the leading medical tourism facilitation service in the region, having provided offshore, managed health care services for more than 3500 patients from Canada, the United States, England, and other nations worldwide.​​

Medical Travel Today (MTT): Let’s start with some background about your organization.

Kimberly Ampie (KA): Currently, we handle international cases for medical travelers, with a strong focus on the self-insured companies. That is where Rajesh Rao from IndusHealth connects with us.

IndusHealth is a leading provider of corporate medical travel administration services in United States.

We’ve been working with several companies for the past few years such as Ashley Furniture, HSM, and most recently with CommScope, a multinational network infrastructure provider .

Our main goal is to help these companies offer the benefit of medical travel for their employees, so they will be able to have surgery at a much lower cost and higher quality of care. The companies are benefitting with the savings, and patients are benefitting because they don’t have to pay a deductible that they would have had to pay back in the US.

Employees also get the experience of traveling. We take care of their hospitality, their surgery appointments and all of the logistics for their travel.

When it comes to patients who find us directly without going through an employer benefit plan, they are looking to save some money and access high-quality care. It doesn’t necessarily have to be surgery; it could also be for dental care or other procedures. They can still save a lot of money.

MTT: How long have you been in business?

The company has been in business for almost 14 years.

MTT: How many patients have you seen? Can you give us a rundown on the patients and the hospitals to which you direct patients?

KA: We have seen about 4,000 patients which came for surgical procedure, medical checkups and diagnostics, or dental care. We work with two hospitals, which are the only two JCI accredited hospitals in the country. One is Clinica Biblica, which has been accredited by the JCI for many years and was actually the first hospital in Central America to receive this accreditation.

The second is CIMA San Jose, which is also a JCI accredited facility, which has been in this country for about 20 years, but with offices in Dallas, TX. They have a philosophy called “Carelosophy” which has three elements: 360-degree vision, empathy and commitment. This drives them to connect patients to only the best quality hospitals.

MTT: What are the most popular procedures that people travel for?

KA: For one, I would say our orthopedic procedures, any type of joint replacement, because savings are very big.

Neurosurgery is another — spine surgery, disc replacement, cervical fusions or lumbar fusions. Bariatric or weight loss surgery is also popular — gastric sleeve and gastric bypass.

We also offer other specialties such as ENT surgery, Maxillofacial procedures and general surgery.

MTT: Tell us why people would go to Costa Rica versus Mexico or another place in the Caribbean.

KA: A big factor is our political stability and the safety of the country.

In Costa Rica, we don’t have a military or an army. Our education system is very good. The world health organization has ranked Costa Rica above the US in overall healthcare efficiency.

The private hospitals that we’re offering to our patients are normally not crowded. There are no waiting lines, for example. We make sure to create an agenda and follow these schedules to avoid any delays, and to provide a more personalized VIP service.

At the moment, you can find plenty of direct flights to Costa Rica, our culture is very friendly, and we pride on our eco sustainability, with 99% of clean renewable energy and our protection of the biodiversity which contains 6% of the biodiversity of the world.

This is something that our patients and clients appreciate about the Costa Rican experience.

MTT: Tell us about the doctors. Do people get to talk to the doctor before they come for the surgery?

Yes, that’s right. The first stage of the process is to get the medical records of the patient from their place of origin.

For example, if you need a knee replacement, we would require you to, at least, have some images of your knee because that’s how our doctor will see what’s happening and provide a treatment plan.

Once I send the patient the treatment plan, then we can schedule a phone call with the doctor, or it could be even before the images arrive. Then the doctor and the patient can talk about symptoms or other issues and recommendations.

In order for us to provide an accurate treatment plan, we do need to evaluate the case and get reports, imaging or diagnosis, anything from their doctors back home.

MTT: What about the follow-up care?

The schedule we create includes a pre-operative plan. We don’t operate unless you’ve been fully checked by our own physicians here. We will do ECG, check on your blood work, ensure that all levels are stable and there’s no signs of infection or anything other red flags.

Then the patient will have the surgery. Depending on the type of treatment plan, it could be that it’s performed on an outpatient basis, or that the patient may have to stay one or two nights. We can predict that as soon as we have the initial consultation via email.

If you spend a night, then you spend one night in the hospital, and the day after, you will be discharged and taken back to the hotel where you’ll recover. A few days later, we schedule a post-op appointment with our physician– the same surgeon. He’s will give you the thumbs up if you are ready to fly back to the US. We will provide your medical records in English.

But by the time that you are scheduled to go back to the US, you should be fit enough for travel.

MTT: Then you see your own doctor when you get back?

KA: Yes, that’s right. Normally, there is no need for a specialist.

We would just require the patient to see their primary care physician a few days after being back in the US to check vitals and the incision. We always ask that our patients send us pictures of the incision so we’re still getting updates and confirm that they followed the medication protocol and our instructions.

For example, with knee replacements we expect our patients to leave using a cane because we actually provide physical therapy for the time that they’re here. It’s usually about eight, 60-90 minute sessions.

By the time the patient is going back on the plane, there is no need to have a walker or any device. We help them recover pretty quickly.

MTT: What is the cost?

KA: It depends on the procedure.

There are some procedures that are becoming more competitive in the US, so you wouldn’t see as much savings as some others. The bigger surgeries are going to be the ones that are going to be a lot cheaper here. For any neurosurgery, you can see savings of almost 70%.

Knees, hip and shoulder replacements that will need some implant or some special instrumentation may be considerably less expensive in Cost Rica — despite the fact that we use exactly the same materials from the same manufacturers.

It’s a lot more affordable here.

We are also working with pharma travel, offering medication for patients that have Multiple Sclerosis. These are infusions that they need to take twice a year. It cost over a $100,000 in the US for the infusions, while you can do that here for about half the price.

MTT: That’s great. Do they usually travel with a friend or relative? What accommodations do you make for them?

KA: For patients who are covered by self-insured companies, for example, we highly recommend having a companion, especially because the company is already paying for the companion’s travel expenses. If they can get someone who they trust and who can take time off to be here, we highly recommend it.

There are certain procedures that you don’t need a companion because you’re not going to be disabled, or you’re not going to have problems to move around. It’s more of the psychological part that is necessary for those cases just to have someone along.

We’ve had cases where patients are paying for the care themselves, like a direct patient, and they come here alone.

 In these instances, we have them stay at a recovery center, rather than a hotel.

We work with one recovery center that offers nursing 24/7. The rooms are beautiful, apartment-like. The staff all speak English, and meals and laundry are included.

For us as a company, this gives us a lot of peace of mind to know that our patients are safe, and their vitals are taken daily.

MTT: How far away is the recovery center from the hospital?

KA: From CIMA, it’s about 10 minutes away, and from Biblica, it’s about 20 minutes. It’s located in Escazú which is very close.

You could walk there or drive there in the same amount of time because driving, you would have to go through the highway. There is no direct access. But if you’re walking, you’ll go through Avenida Escazú, which is a really an upscale, nice plaza located between the hospital and the recovery center.

We also work with hotels that are big brands, such as Marriott, Residence Inn, Hilton and InterContinental. They have a really nice and affordable hotel called Quality Real San José. It’s similar to the Quality brand in the US, but a little bit more upscale. They have really good food and really good breakfasts.

MTT: Do a lot of people come for surgery and then stay for a vacation?

KA: Some do.

We recommend that if they’re trying to come for vacation that they take their time for vacations before surgery. By the time that they’re back here in San José, they can have the surgery and just focus on their recovery.

This year, we had a patient who came by himself from Alaska for a hip replacement. In the past, he had his hip replaced in Alaska, and he said it was almost $100,000.

He was planning to go to Thailand for the surgery but didn’t want to deal with the flight and all of that. Then he looked into Costa Rica.

He came here for his hip replacement, stayed here for a few weeks, and then went over to Jaco Beach. I talked to the hotel to make sure they knew that he just had surgery, and he was able to continue recovering at the beach. He continued his physical therapy there and we made sure he came back to the doctor.

Usually, people vacation before surgery, but in this specific case, he had surgery and then went on to enjoy his vacation. It worked out nicely, he was really happy.

MTT: How do you envision your success going forward?

I think it’s just spreading the word. Part of our success has been because of the testimonials of patients, word of mouth, and because I think what our goal in general is, besides getting people here, to make sure that the experience of the patient is outstanding.

Patients always have a personal concierge assigned to them. As soon as you have your itinerary, there’s always someone that’s going to be waiting for you. We’ve been working with the same drivers for many years, so they already know how to handle medical tourists.

MTT: Explain a bit more about the actual experience.

KA: You first arrive to Costa Rica, our drivers will pick you up at the airport and take you to your hotel. A welcome bag with information and details will be waiting for you at the front desk. Then the date after, you are picked up at the hotel by our drivers and you’re taken to the hospital, one of us is going to welcome you and take you through every appointment.

So, it’s not like you just get the procedure, it’s more like you have a personal assistant. It’s something that you will not get back in the US.

The daily care with the nurse ensures that you will have someone to call in case of anything. So, I guess, that’s part of the success.

We’ve seen that people recover here very quickly compared to the time it takes for recovery back home. Patients don’t have any other responsibility here other than recovering.

MTT: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

KA: The culture here is open and friendly. Food here is very healthy, by default.

It’s very rare to go to a hotel where their breakfast is not full of fruit and tropical juices and just the whole Costa Rican vibe.

People are very positive. They’re always happy and in good spirits. It’s especially attractive for self-insured companies to send their employees here since not many of their employees are well-traveled. For these workers, it’s a big experience to be able to go out of the country, go to Central America, and find this little country that is so safe and can offer you so much.

We have also created special tours for our patients. Even if you had a surgery, if you would like to purchase one of the tours or if you’re a self-insured company, we already include that in the package.

Patients can do some sight-seeing, and maybe go on a coffee tour, which is an interesting and safe experience.

If someone is having a smaller dental procedure or less complex surgical procedure, they can go and see a waterfall. We try to make this whole experience really nice.

We want to ensure that not just the hospital, but also the hotels and the restaurants at the hotels are good. Every little thing is going to be a pleasant experience for both the patient and the companion.

Our work with Indushealth has been outstanding, we have become a great team along the years. They take care of connecting us with self-insured companies in the US, and their highly trained case managers take care of the initial consultation process in the US, all providers involved worked seamlessly to ensure that our patients have a remarkable medical travel experience. We have been very lucky to have partners that are just as passionate as we are when it comes to healthcare and customer service. I am very proud to be part of this industry.

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