Latin American Health care group Sanitas coming to Miami-Dade in partnership with Florida Blue

Miami Herald
Date: September 24, 2015

A familiar face in Latin American healthcare will debut three primary-care clinics in Miami-Dade intended to appeal to Hispanic consumers under a new partnership next year with the parent company of the state’s largest health insurer, Florida Blue.

Organización Sanitas Internacional — a healthcare business group that owns a broad network of hospitals and clinics in Colombia, Venezuela, Peru and Brazil — will operate the South Florida centers in Doral, Hialeah and West Kendall with a focus on newly-arrived Latin American immigrants, said Pat Geraghty, chairman and CEO of GuideWell, launched as the parent company of Florida Blue this year.

Geraghty said GuideWell dispatched a team to Latin America to tour Sanitas’ clinics and hospitals, and they found a high quality healthcare provider with an innate understanding of its clientele’s cultural preferences.

“We were impressed with their understanding of how to treat folks,’’ Geraghty said. “They’re focused on quality. They’re focused on running efficient organizations. They’re focused on customer care.’’

The Miami-Dade clinics, to be established under a company called GuideWell-Sanitas, will provide medical services, such as primary care, select specialty care, walk-in care, lab, diagnostic and pharmacy services.

Clinics will be targeted to consumers who buy Florida Blue’s health plans on the Affordable Care Act exchange, Geraghty said. But the centers also will be considered in-network options for Florida Blue’s employer-group and Medicare health plans in Miami-Dade.

While the GuideWell-Sanitas partnership appears to be the first of its kind in Florida, there is another example of an international healthcare provider doing business across borders: CHRISTUS Health, a faith-based provider that serves consumers in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Georgia, and New Mexico, as well as Chile and Mexico.

The partnership between GuideWell and Sanitas is the latest example of the growing globalization of healthcare, said Steven Ullmann, a health policy expert at the University of Miami business school.

But there is also evidence, Ullmann said, that culturally sensitive healthcare can produce better outcomes for patients.

“There are studies that have been done that indicate when patients are culturally comfortable with their providers that outcomes become significantly better,’’ he said.

Patients who feel comfortable from the moment they enter the waiting room to their encounter with a physician are more likely to comply with a doctor’s orders and to communicate effectively with their physician or nurse.

“In Latin America,’’ Ullmann said, “the healthcare clinics are actually places, in part, to congregate, to interact, to have social interactions. That’s not something you see necessarily in non-Hispanic culture.’’

Culturally-sensitive healthcare is not just about making a patient comfortable. Ullmann said there’s also evidence that patients may be genetically predisposed to better respond to healthcare when it’s delivered in a particular way.

“Once you use protocols that work very well for a population that is of European background, say, that same protocol for that same disease process will have a very different average outcome for a population that is, say, Hispanic,’’ he said.

A number of South Florida healthcare providers cater to the cultural preferences of Hispanics, but they’re mostly in the Medicare HMO market, where groups like Leon Medical Centers and CAC-Florida Medical Centers feature waiting rooms that feel like social clubs, and seniors are served cafecitos and pastelitos while they wait to see a doctor.

Leon and CAC are among the most popular Medicare HMOs in Miami-Dade, in part because of their culturally-sensitive approach.

GuideWell hopes that Sanitas can improve Florida Blue’s reach in Miami-Dade, particularly through the federally-run insurance exchanges established under the Affordable Care Act.

The Miami marketplace has about 1.7 million Hispanic residents, a population concentration with a lot of potential for GuideWell-Sanitas.

Nearly a million Florida residents signed up for a private health plan using the exchange at during the inaugural enrollment period for this year, and Geraghty said Florida Blue was “happy” with its enrollment statewide.

“We were well over 300,000 in the state,’’ he said. “We think we can do better in South Florida, and in fact, yes, this is a strategy to improve our penetration in South Florida, and our ability to deliver to customers what they need and want.’’