In the multibillion-dollar industry of health tourism, quality of care drives the market. Quality of care typifies not only the quality of medical treatment provided to each patient, but the quality of the patient experience from start to finish.
In boosting patient experience in health travel, one must consider all the processes and factors involved in scheduling the visit, the treatment, and the recovery period. In essence, changing the model of health travel to a more patient-centered approach.
According to an article by Global Healthcare Accreditation (GHA), there are five main factors to be considered by health tourist destinations and facilities in boosting patient experience. These include service and destination selection, communication, arrival and accommodation, admission and treatment, as well as follow-up care and departure.
Service and Destination Selection
How easy do you make the selection process for international patients? This stage usually gives a first impression of the healthcare facility which influences patient choice in health travel. A critical element in influencing patient choice is providing adequate information. Some healthcare facilities, such as the Bumrungrad Hospital, provide ample information on display on the international patient department section of their websites for easy access by patients who wish to visit for health purposes.
Bumrungrad Hospital provides essential information on its accreditation status, list of procedures performed in the hospital, number of such procedures carried out in the hospital, success rates of each procedure type, number, qualifications and specialties of healthcare providers in each department, and contact numbers and email addresses through which patients can contact the facility to schedule a visit.
Some hospitals such as the London Bridge Hospital provides essential details for prospective international patients in different languages to avoid communication barriers. It is also necessary for hospitals to be able to organize conference calls between potential medical tourists and the appropriate consultant who will provide details of the treatment process and recovery period.
Since a significant driver for health tourism is affordability of healthcare, patients mainly seek healthcare treatment which affords them some cost savings. Having prior knowledge of the price packages of medical treatment and procedures provided on a hospital’s website gives patients the ability to make an informed selection of their health travel destination.
Arrival and Accommodation
Air travel plays a vital role in influencing a destination’s medical tourism market. As increasing numbers of people from all over the world travel to various destinations for medical tourism, countries with highly-competitive air travel packages may see a higher influx of these patients.
In 2015, Turkish Airlines, the country’s carrier, announced 50% discounts on all flights for international patients. This action has since driven the health tourism market in the country, as the incentivized travel option attracted the international patients.
Similarly, ANA Holdings, a Japanese airline group last year partnered with Kameda Medical Centre in Chiba Prefecture, Japan, to offer airfare and accommodation packages for Chinese health tourists on a three-day visit. The package also includes car service to the Beijing International airport and transport to a hotel close to the hospital on the day of arrival.
ANA offers comprehensive health check-ups as part of the package. A comprehensive check-up includes blood tests, upper or lower gastrointestinal endoscopy, and other investigations which will be done on the second and third day of arrival. The package also includes CT lung studies and MRI brain scans as add-ons.
These incentives have boosted the health tourism market to Japan, with a significant number of international patients being Chinese. According to the country’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, 946 visas for medical travel were issued in 2015, from about 600 in the previous year. Many health travel agencies have already partnered with the airline group to promote influx of medical travelers to the country.
Provision of comfortable accommodation for international patients and their companions also provide an excellent incentive for health tourists. One role of international patient departments is the provision of an accommodation that offers spacious rooms, WiFi connectivity, and a relaxing atmosphere to boost fast recovery while ensuring the patient remains comfortable.
The impact of language barriers in medical travel is alarming. From medical misdiagnosis, treatment errors, to poor management, complications of a faulty communication system often lead to patient dissatisfaction.
Recommendations by the Global Health Accreditation to curb these communication barriers include the following;
- Employ a workforce that is culturally and linguistically diverse.
- Hire in-house interpreters or bilingual staff as part of the medical and non-medical team.
- Use multilingual signage in public places.
- Print information materials in many languages and ensure they are easy to read.
- Staff should be oriented and trained in understanding and accepting cultural diversities, as well as improving cultural and linguistic interactions between staff and patients.
Healthcare providers and the non-clinical staff must also be sensitive to the needs of the patient eliminating barriers along communication lines from patient arrival to discharge from the hospital.
Admission and Treatment
The quality of staff-patient communication plays a key role during the admission and treatment process. Patients tend to feel better about a procedure, healthcare provider, and healthcare facility if they are involved in the treatment process. Communication barriers may, therefore, impede this process.
The quality of care provided for the patient is integral to their level of satisfaction. This includes respect for the patient’s dignity, religious needs, and cultural differences. Patients want to receive the best quality of medical treatment available, therefore, access to cutting-edge treatment options is essential to boost patient satisfaction.
Furthermore, during the treatment process, patients should be given wrist ID bracelets to guard against avoidable treatment errors.
Follow-up Care and Departure
The journey doesn’t end after treatment for a medical traveler, the period after treatment is received is crucial to creating a lasting impression and creating a pleasant patient experience. Provision of adequate information of diet and lifestyle habits is essential for patients during the recovery period to forestall complications.
Hospitals that offer post-treatment nursing care and follow-up services tend to keep a long relationship with those patients. For the days or weeks after an orthopaedic procedure, for example, it is essential to provide nursing care, physical therapy, and facilities for physical training.
A proper follow-up plan after departure is also essential, and as technology continues to sweep through healthcare, hospitals may take advantage of tele-health services and other digital options to follow up with patients weeks and months after a procedure.
Healthcare is becoming patient-centered and stakeholders in health tourism are becoming aware of how meeting patients’ needs influence the market of health tourism. For the big players in the industry, care does not only consists in the hospital but begins from arrival of the patient to full recovery.