A private medical mecca that attracts patients worldwide

Herzliya Medical Center treats patients from all over the world seeking top medical care. As you walk through the corridors and clinics of the Herzliya Medical Center, it is a bit difficult to figure out what country you are in. …

Herzliya Medical Center treats patients from all over the world seeking top medical care. As you walk through the corridors and clinics of the Herzliya Medical Center, it is a bit difficult to figure out what country you are in.

One is just as likely to see patients chattering with their families in Russian or Arabic and a stately African man in colorful ethnic garb or a uniformed United Nations soldier just might pass by.

This is because the Medical Center, which is a full-fledged private hospital located in central Israel just north of Tel Aviv, is an international mecca for those seeking quality private health care. A full one-third of its patients are Eastern Europeans, Africans, residents of neighboring countries like Greece and Cyprus or even citizens of Arab countries like Kuwait seeking top medical care. They join Israelis who choose private care, or whose publicly subsidized HMOs reimburse them for the Medical Center?s services.

Providing health care in no less than 12 languages, HMC is known as the “diplomatic hospital” of Israel since nearly every major embassy and consulate uses HMC as its primary address for health care.

But HMC does not just import patients from around the world – it exports its expertise.

In a conference room deep in the basement of the building, HMC CEO Dr. Aubrey Joffe points proudly to a wall covered with architectural plans. The designs carry the names of hospitals all over the world – from Russia to Greece to Turkey, to countries across the continent of Africa, all of which HMC has been hired to help design, with bids that compete with and beat major companies.

“When we opened our doors in 1982, we never dreamed we would become a full-fledged general hospital,” Joffe told ISRAEL21C. “And we certainly never imagined that we would be looked upon as a model for hospitals overseas.”

Indeed, it all began quite modestly. A group of investors decided to build a medical center modeled on those in their native South Africa, and locate it in the upscale beachside town of Herzliya – where doctors’offices would be located and supportive clinical services provided as well as surgical facilities for minor procedures.

At the time, it was an alien concept. While there were many Israeli doctors with private clinics which supplemented their work in public hospitals, HMOs and universities, these clinics were nearly always in their home or in the apartment of a relative.

“People said we were building a white elephant,” Joffe said.

But they forged ahead – assisted by a timely crackdown from income tax authorities on doctors who were hiding their private income from home clinics. This motivated many, including the country’s top practitioners to seek professional office space and affiliation with HMC.

Shortly after they opened, the new medical center was thrust into expanding its horizons as the result of a strike which shut down the operating rooms of the public hospitals.

“There were two babies in Tel Hashomer who needed open-heart surgery and would die without it,” Joffe recalls. “Their doctor worked with HMC and asked us to help them.”

“So we took an operating room that was set up for minor plastic and eye surgery and we converted it into a fully-equipped cardiac OR, and we also set up an intensive care unit.”

Not only were the babies saved, but a cardiac surgery unit was born, along with a vision for a private hospital which offered a far greater range of services than originally imagined. In 1991, the building underwent expansion and increased its number of operating rooms.

“With great modesty, we can say that we are very successful today. We run a profitable hospital – not an easy task and we are very proud and excited about it,” says Joffe.

Today, HMC offers comprehensive health care services ranging from diagnostics to treatments embracing a wide variety of investigative and surgical procedures, such as neurosurgery, cardiac angiography, open-heart surgery, kidney transplants, nuclear medicine, computer tomography, cytogenetics, IVF and other state-of-the-art procedures.

It is a primary address for most major medical insurers from overseas. HMC is the only medical organization outside of the USA to be fully accredited as a hospital provider by Empire Blue Cross-Blue Shield and it is also an official provider for many other insurance and assistance companies in Europe, North America and Asia.

Nearly all of the major embassies and consulates have a relationship with HMC, which is also the referral hospital of the Multi-National Forces Organization. HMC is the regional referral hub for several leading emergency assistance companies, and HMC operates rescue missions to and from more than 20 countries in Asia, Africa and Europe. The patients are usually evacuated for intensive treatment directly to the Herzliya Medical Center.

Those who come to Israel from overseas who don’t need inpatient care often check into one of the beachside hotels near HMC, enjoying a Mediterranean view as they recuperate.

“Our reputation is still probably the strongest in the former Soviet Union,” says Joffe. “We are probably the best-known overseas hospital in Siberia.”

It was natural then, after the collapse of the former Soviet Union, that HMC was first approached as a consulting body, to share its expertise in the design, construction, equipping and operation of modern hospitals and specialist clinics as private health care began to penetrate the former Soviet republics.

“Just after perestroika, we were consulted to convert a former Russian public hospital into a private medical center. Since then, we have been heavily involved in the former USSR as consultants for designing and equipping medical facilities,” said Joffe.

The company was sought out because of its expertise in hi-tech medical design and engineering, specifically space allocation, diagnostic imaging equipment, computerized management systems, and advanced surgical and laboratory techniques.

HMC designed a complete cardiology and cardiac surgery hospital in Russia and also recently completed the design and equipping of a modern clinic in Russia including diagnostics, urology, gynecology and ambulatory surgery. Most recently the largest and most sophisticated private hospital to be built in the CIS recently appointed HMC as consultants for a new project in Moscow.

HMC has also worked a great deal in African countries, including Nigeria, Kenya and and Angola. In a recent project, it designed, constructed, equipped, staffed and managed two state-of-the-art hospitals in Equatorial Guinea.

The company has even made inroads in countries with large Islamic populations.

“When we won a tender to equip the largest rehabilitations hospital for the Turkish Land Forces Command, we beat bids from companies like GE, Philips and Siemens,” says Joffe.

This massive international tender involved the complete equipping of the prestigious Turkish Army Rehabilitation and Care Center in Ankara. More than 12,000 items of medical equipment were supplied by HMC and the project was inaugurated by the President of Turkey.

While HMC is not internationally known in the way that major hospitals like Hadassah are recognized, Joffe explains that the center fills a key niche that is very different, but just as important.

“I think we bring experience to the table that a public hospital simply can’t. Our expertise is creating efficiency and the optimal cost-effective design and operation of hospital. There is no doubt that the major Israeli public hospitals are among the best-equipped in the world. But you have to remember that in addition to government support, they receive a massive number of donations, which is wonderful, but does not develop a tendency to think about efficiency.

There is no great amount of thought given to the cost-effectiveness of their machines or their facilities. In some places, they receive state-of-the-art equipment as a donation, and then don’t have enough money to operate it.”

Turning a profit, he contends, is completely compatible with saving lives and making the world a better place.

In addition to consulting, HMC is also in the teaching business. It trains doctors and technicians from overseas countries in fields involving the hi-technology aspects of current medical practice and is also a leader in the design and computerization of hospital systems.

HMC offers one of the only post-graduate courses dedicated to in vitro fertilization (IVF) in humans. HMC has established IVF and fertility clinics in several overseas countries, most recently in Poland and India.

And it is involved in international research as well. Joffe is particularly proud of HMC’s participation in the European Commission Research and Development (R&D) projects aimed at developing new technologies and IT systems for the improvement of healthcare and better quality of life for EC citizens.