Spotlight Interview: Wesley Jacobs, Founder, Apollo Medical Travel

About Wesley Jacobs

Wesley Jacobs is the founder of Apollo Medical Travel. He is a graduate of the Virginia 
Military Institute and a former United States Army Infantry Officer.

In 2019, Wes transitioned out of the Army to study Spanish in Cartagena, Colombia, and in March 2020 he founded Apollo. The Company has since grown to include a network of clinics across Mexico, Costa Rica and Colombia. Wes believes that everyone deserves access to high quality, affordable medical care and takes pride in saving patients tens of thousands of dollars.

About Apollo Medical Travel

At Apollo Medical Travel, we believe that everyone deserves access to high quality, affordable medical care. We make medical care accessible by connecting patients with highly trained doctors and dentists in our network of providers across Mexico, Costa Rica and Colombia. We help our patients save 50-70% on their care, and give them the peace of mind to pull out their passport for their health.

Medical Travel & Digital Health News (MTDHN): Tell us what your company does.

Wes Jacobs (WJ): Apollo Medical Travel connects patients from the United States with high-quality affordable medical care through our network of clinics in Mexico, Costa Rica and Columbia. We offer 14 dental clinics and three ambulatory surgery centers. The vast majority of our patients come for dental implants and crowns.

MTDHN: How long have you been doing this?

WJ: We started this business in March 2020. I had just got out of the military at what was probably the worst possible time to start a medical tourism business. But we’ve been able to drive patient traffic during this time and build a network of providers, so the pandemic didn’t cause the setback that it might have.

Everybody’s looking for ways to get more patients right now. So many clinics that might have otherwise ignored us have been very willing to talk with us.

MTDHN: Are you going to be expanding other locations in the Caribbean?

WJ: We do have ambitions to expand, but now that we have 14 dental clinics and three ambulatory surgery centers, there’s already a lot of moving pieces. So, we’re slowing down our expansion a bit until we can train more people and ensure that everything is of the highest quality.

MTDHN: Explain your model and who you serve.

WJ: We work directly with consumers from the United States to connect them with businesses in Latin America. We pitch the idea of medical tourism to consumers and tell them about these facilities with outstanding technology and top-notch dentists who speak fluent English and were trained in the United States or Europe.

While most of our efforts are direct to consumer, we are also in talks with a representative from the Veterans Administration in Virginia who works with Medicare Advantage plans. We are very interested in expanding into more of an employer model, but at the moment it’s direct to consumer.

MTDHN: Tell us about the facilities. How do you choose them and are they credentialed?

WJ: In Mexico, Costa Rica and Columbia, there’s a few different local governing bodies that we check the credentials against. Here in Columbia it’s Dion. In Costa Rica it’s the Costa Rican College of Dental Surgeons and in Mexico it’s the Secretary of Public Education.

We vet the credentials of dentists through their national systems and do a background check in terms of going through all of their patient reviews and looking for recurring issues that we need to address. We also do a site visit and follow a detailed checklist.

MTDHN: You mentioned dental. Are there opportunities for other surgeries, such as knee or hip replacements?

WJ: Yes, we work with Sandy Medical Tourism, which operates the Playa Surgery Center and the Baja Surgery Center in Los Algodones. They offer orthopedic procedures, general surgery, and cosmetic and plastic surgery. In Playa del Carmen, we work with the Playa Surgery Center.

They’re both operated by a company called Sani Medical Tourism, which operates Sani Dental Group, the Playa Surgery Center and the Baja Surgery Center.

MTDHN: Are your services wheels up to wheels down? What about concierge travel services?

WJ: Yes. We work hand-in-hand with the dental clinics to make sure that the patient is taken care of every step of the way. In their research process, we help provide free quotes and help patients decide on a destination. We also help them with travel arrangements and accommodations. We provide pick-up from the airport, take them to their hotel and take care of hotel to clinic transfers. They have our support through the whole process. This is important because some procedures can be a major emotional experience and the travel itself can be stressful for some people. Our goal is to make it as easy for them as possible.

MTDHN: What are the cost advantages?

WJ: In the United States, the big driver for us is dental implants. A dental implant, abutment and crown can cost $4,000 to $4,500. That same procedure, performed with state-of-the-art equipment using guided surgery cost $1,200. The savings are even bigger for people getting full mouth restoration.

Our patients have gotten quotes as high as $50,000 for full mouth restoration in the United States, while we charge between $14,000 to $15,500 for the same procedure.

MTDHN: Do these require multiple visits?

WJ: Dental implants take two visits of approximately one week, four to six months apart, because the titanium or ceramic screw is placed in the jaw bone and must heal around it before the final restoration.

MTDHN: Are there any complications?

WJ: The vast majority of infections associated with this surgery happen in a short time following the surgery. For this reason, they get a follow-up about day five or six before they return to the United States. This helps to mitigate the risk of infection. If somebody does get an infection, we advise them to go to their dentist. Fortunately, we have had no infections occur among any of our patients thus far.

MTDHN: What part of the country do your patients come from?

We’ve had patients come from Texas and New York. Many of them find us through Google search, so they don’t come from a specific geographic area.

MTDHN: How do you see the volume building?

WJ: Our search traffic is growing every week. We’ve found that Google Search Console is a great way to measure the number of people clicking on our site. From this, we’ve seen exponential growth. We’ve also been featured in articles, including TravelAwaits, which targets the 55+ traveler. That helps drive our search traffic.

MTDHN: What is the age group of patient?

WJ: With the pandemic, we’ve actually been very surprised by who has contacted us. We’d expected patients between 55 and 64 of age because that’s when people start to lose their teeth. But most of our patients have been in their 40s.

I think part of it is there’s less fear to travel for people who are a little younger. Also, vaccinations have opened things a bit, although Latin America still has coronavirus restrictions and high positive testing.

MTDHN: Are these primarily individuals that don’t have dental insurance?

WJ: It’s not that they don’t have insurance but that they’re under-insured. For dental insurance in the United States, it’s typically broken down into a 180/50 model with a low annual cap. That means that it’s 100% of routine work, like dental cleanings and fillings, that is covered, 80% of basic work covered and 50% of major procedures, like dental crowns or dental implants, covered. All of this is capped at about $2,000 per year.

Typically, people will try to get their dental care in the December/January timeframe to double up on the amount of coverage they get over that period. They get the dental implant placed in December and then the abutment plate and temporary crown in January. But when somebody is looking down the barrel at a $50,000 bill or a $50,000 treatment plan to get a full mouth restoration, the insurance almost becomes a rounding error.

MTDHN: What is your approach then to an insurance broker or third-party administrator? Do you work with those intermediaries?

WJ: Right now, we’re trying to get the experience with patient traffic through our direct-to-consumer model. And then we will approach employers. We are very confident that we can deliver results at scale.

MTDHN: Are there competitors in your space? Many facilitators have gone out of business.

There are competitors in my space who I really admire, such as Paul McTaggart at Dental Departures in Bangkok, Thailand, as well as Medical Departures. They attract patients from all over the world through a network of over 2,000 clinics in 39 countries.

Another person I really admire is Sophie Chung, who runs a medical tourism company based in Germany. In Europe, they are more about addressing wait times rather than price.

MTDHN: Do you have an intake process?

WJ: Yes. Our hardest working salesperson is, and we try to make it as useful as possible for people who are searching for an alternative to what they’ve got in the United States. We’ve created dental implant guides for Mexico and Columbia, and veneer guides for Mexico and Columbia. We’re working on each of these procedures in each of these countries to give somebody all of the information they need so they can make an informed decision. From there, they can explore our 14 clinics and three ambulatory surgery centers, including all of the information about the providers, which is very transparent and offers affordable prices. They can also see high-resolution photos of the facility.

We include all of the information they need regarding who accepts their insurance, types of payments accepted, additional services and so forth.

MTDHN: What are your payment terms?

WJ: Our patients pay the clinic directly. The clinics usually accept personal and travelers checks, credit and debit cards, wire transfers and PayPal.

MTDHN: Do the people have to bring a companion with them or is it recommended?

WJ: Most of our travelers bring a companion, whether it’s a spouse, partner or family member. We recommend this because it’s helpful to have somebody at your side to do the simple things, such as shopping and sharing the pleasures of travel.

MTDHN: Do you arrange for COVID testing?

WJ: Many of our clinics take care of this with the equivalent of a traveling nurse who goes where she’s needed to administer the COVID test.

MTDHN: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

WJ: I think the future of healthcare is price transparency. So, whether we are offering services in Latin America or the United States, we owe patients the courtesy and decency of telling them the costs.